clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What advanced stats say about Illinois’ chances in March

The Illini are one of the nation’s best teams.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Fighting Illini (16-5, 7-3) continue to have a stellar season. They added to the win column Tuesday with a road win at Ohio State, a big win considering how tough road games are in this conference. Terrence Shannon Jr. got going again with 23 points, Marcus Domask added another 23 points, and everyone in the 10-man rotation contributed.

Let’s take a deep dive into Illinois basketball.

Where does this team excel?

What do they need to improve on before March?

What makes this team a Big Ten and national contender?

Raw Statistics (per College Sports Reference)

  • 82.3 PPG (26th)
  • 69.0 OPPG (113th)
  • 46.3 FG% (99th)
  • 34.4 3FG% (162nd)
  • 72.6 FT% (134th)
  • 40.9 Opponent FG% (57th)
  • 43.0 RPG (5th)
  • 12.8 APG (223rd)
  • 4.6 SPG (347th)
  • 4.2 BPG (83rd)
  • 11.1 TOV (260th)
  • 9.4 Opponent TOV (7th)
  • 14.2 PF (16th)

Illinois’ raw numbers paint a picture of a solid team. Their offense is in the upper echelon of the country, and a +13.3 margin is among the best in the Big Ten.

Their shooting is good, but not elite based on these numbers. It is, however, extremely improved from 2022-23 (44.9%, 30.8%, 67.9%). From the film, that comes from much more cohesive offense, more ball movement, more transition opportunities, less isolation basketball, and more good shots in rhythm compared to forcing threes up.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Illinois’ defense is good (not great) based on these numbers, but they rebound the ball at an elite rate, being fifth in the country. That comes from the team’s length and size; the starting lineup is guys 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-10. That size and length also allows the team to get a number of blocks, though lower than they had last season with Matthew Mayer.

Illinois doesn’t average a lot of assists and turns it over too much, while not forcing opponents to turn it over a lot either. Losing the turnover margin could be something to worry about come March. At least they do not foul too much, with the 16th-fewest fouls per game.

Advanced Analytics (per CBB Analytics)

  • Net Rating: +19.3 (96th percentile)
  • Offensive Rating: 118.7 (96th percentile)
  • Defensive Rating: 99.4 (88th percentile)
  • Pace: 69.0 (71st percentile)
  • eFG%: 53.0% (79th percentile)
  • TS%: 56.9% (79th percentile)
  • OREB%: 36.7% (96th percentile)
  • AST/TOV Ratio: 1.15 (64th percentile)
  • 3PT Attempt Rate: 38.6% (59th percentile)
  • FT Attempt Rate: 34.6% (63rd percentile)
  • 20.8 Bench PPG (67th percentile)
  • Opponent eFG%: 45.3% (96th percentile)
  • DREB%: 73.8% (83rd percentile)
  • Opponent TOV%: 11.6% (2nd percentile)
  • Block%: 9% (50th percentile)
  • Opponent FT Attempt Rate: 23.3% (97th percentile)
  • Opponent 3PT Attempt Rate: 27.8% (98th percentile)

Ratings take a team’s numbers per 100 possessions, where Illinois is usually outscoring opponents by 19.3 points, scoring 118.7 themselves and allowing 99.4 points. As you can see, at the 96th percentile, few teams are ahead of Illinois in dominating opponents. Their defensive rating will also get better; prior to the Purdue game, it was at 93.3, in the 99th percentile. There have been some issues pop up on the road, but the team will be just fine.

They play relatively fast, but not blisteringly quick. The pace was higher pre-Shannon suspension at 70.5, before booty ball started being implemented. The advanced shooting numbers show Illinois is playing more efficiently, with a 2% higher eFG% and 3% higher TS% than last season. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but with teams shooting 60-70 times per game at least, it’s a lot.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Their three-point attempt rate is down from last season, but that’s a result of taking better threes. You’d like to see the free throw attempt rate also come up to last season’s, especially because this team shoots at the line much better. The rebounding percentages reflect what we stated above; this is a very good team on the glass, especially offensively. One thing the team last season did better was more splash defensive plays with steals, blocks, and forcing turnovers. But even without that, Illinois’ defensive rating is just 2 points worse. That’s because they’ve allowed a lower rate and percentage from the three-point line and free throw line.

Lastly, while the assist-turnover ratio isn’t great, it’s much-improved from 0.96, the 38th percentile in 2022-23. I do worry about the lack of playmaking and forcing turnovers defensively, but it’s a small flaw that only top top teams would expose (though we have already seen that between Marquette, Tennessee, and Purdue).

The Rankings Systems (per NCAA, T-Rank, KenPom, ESPN)

  • NET Ranking: 12
  • Q1 Record: 3-4
  • Q2, Q3, Q4 Record: 13-1
  • BracketMatrix Projection: 5th seed
  • RPI: 17th
  • Barttovik: 0.9269 power rating or chance to beat average D1 team (11th overall, 5th offense, 43rd Defense)
  • KenPom: 9th overall, 2nd Big Ten +24.08 AdjEM, 121.6 AdjO (5th, 3rd in Big Ten), 97.5 AdjD (33rd, 5th in Big Ten)
  • ESPN BPI: +14.7 (11th)
  • EvanMiya Byesian Performance Rating (BPR): +22.0 (8th), 6th offense (+14.1), 29th defense (+7.9), 33rd in Kill Shots per game, 68th in Kill Shots conceded per game
  • MasseyRating: +8.71 (12th)
  • Sagarin: NA

We have all the advanced rankings systems that the committee uses to place teams sans Sagarin ratings.

NET is the main evaluation tool, explained here. It’s a heavily revamped version of RPI, the old main evaluation tool. As you can see, it factors in performances in losses more than before, versus RPI mainly only considering wins and raw strength of schedule. Illinois being No. 12 indicates they should be at least a 4-seed, if not the last 3-seed.

Bracketmatrix has them as a 5 seed for now, but hasn’t been updated with Tuesday’s results.

Illinois is currently 3-4 in Quad 1, with at least 4 more Quad 1 opportunities (@MSU, @WIS, vsPUR, @IOWA). Those are going to be huge both for Illinois’ March Madness seeding purposes, and in the Big Ten title race, where the Fighting Illini have separated themselves into the top 4, almost guaranteeing a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but they have bigger aspirations.

Their one loss outside Quad 1 is to Maryland’s black magic. And it’s likely to rise to a Quad 2 loss (though the Ohio State win could drop to Quad 2 as well). Last season Illinois had just two Quad 1 wins, and none in conference play. NET and RPI are resume tools, how good a team has been, more descriptive.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The other metrics people use to pick their brackets are more favorable to the Illini than their AP ranking of 14. These are more predictive metrics, based on preseason expectations, results from this season, and used to predict margin of victory and adjusted offensive and defensive ratings playing other teams on a neutral court. Each metric values things slightly differently, but usually agree overall on a team’s range.

Illinois’ predictive metrics favor them over their descriptive metrics (which makes sense; Arizona is No. 3 in NET with the same record because of its schedule being harder, though both the Pac-12 and Big Ten aren’t extra strong this season). They are 12th and 17th in NET and RPI (descriptive), but 12th and above in the predictive metrics. Their offense is top-5 in most metrics, but the defense has fallen a bit to around 35th on average in the country. Still good, but not elite like their offense has been.

But with their personnel, I believe Illinois can easily be top-10 in both categories as they continue to work TSJ back in.

The last thing to touch on is EvanMiya’s Kill Shot, or 10-0 run frequency. A decent amount of correlation was found to the top teams in March for this statistic. Illinois is pretty good at them, at 33rd in the country, but 68th in allowing them. That’s worrying. Illinois has the firepower to comeback from a big deficit for sure, but it can be a fatal flaw in March. They came back in big games against Texas, Northwestern, and Michigan in the regular season last year, and almost against Purdue, but couldn’t do it against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament and against Arkansas in the bracket. So another weakness for Illinois and Brad Underwood to keep an eye on.

Overall, the descriptive metrics show Illinois is a top-15 team, the predictive metrics show they’re a top 10 team, and they excel scoring efficiently, getting good shots, rebounding, and forcing tough shots. They struggle with playmaking and forcing turnovers. Fix those, and you’ve got a Final 4 team.