9:00 Wednesday. The Breslin Center. BTN.
Conference play is not treating the Illini well. They’ve won just two of eight Big Ten games–home games against Michigan and Northwestern. For what it’s worth, they’re coming off the win vs. Northwestern–a 70-37 drubbing.
The tempo-free stat sheet tells the story of Illinois’ struggles. On offense, Illinois is really good at only one thing: offensive rebounding. They rank 18th in the nation in offensive rebounding % at 39.4%. Meanwhile, they are very, very poor shooters. They’re making just 31.2% of their 3-point attempts and hitting on just 59.7% of free-throw attempts.
Their most efficient scoring options are Trent Meachem (40.2% on 3-point shots) and Shawn Pruitt (54.4% on 2-point shots). Beyond those two guys, the rest of the team has struggled mightily. Four players are attempting more than one 3-point shot per game but shooting less than 30% from beyond the arc–a pretty good sign a team is struggling to generate good scoring opportunities.
Defensively, this is a solid team. They rank 23rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The strength of their defense is playing good man-to-man defense–led by versatile 6’8″ senior Brian Randle–and forcing poor shots. Opponents are making just 31.4% of 3-point attempts and 43.8% of 2-point attempts.
Hoopraker takes a more qualitative approach in examining Illinois’ offensive woes.
On the other hand when Weber got what he thought to be a solid verbal from Gordon, he stopped looking for a 2007 two-guard. The loss of Gordon, the late, failed attempt for recoup with Watkins, and the absence of Jamar Smith, yet another scoring 2-guard, elucidates what is less a recruiting deficiency of Weber’s than a coach and program absorbing what were unexpected and impactful interruptions to an otherwise successful and principled recruiting strategy.
The result is a roster without enough consistent perimeter shooting/scoring. The team’s only answer to this deficiency is a non-scholarship walk-on in Meacham. It isn’t hard to see why opponents are packing the paint, putting Pruitt and Randle in a cage where their every manuever and shot is double and triple contested, and taunting the depleted Illini perimeter into beating it with jumpshots.
The Illini Basketball Fans Blog, meanwhile, makes the case for Rodney Alexander to get more minutes to boost the offense. Alexander is a 6’7″ juco transfer averaging just 14 minutes per game. He’s one of the guys shooting below 30% from 3-point range, but is knocking down 57.4% of this 2-point attempts. And he scored 20 points in 24 minutes against a pretty stingy Ohio State defense a week ago.
Despite all the negativity above, Kenpom predicts MSU to win this one by just 7, 66-59. The methodological reason for this is that Illinois has been extremely unlucky. They rank dead last in the country in Kenpom’s “luck” factor. In short, their win-loss record is worse than their efficiency stats would predict. We’ll see if Illinois can keep it close and validate tempo-free stat analysis. As a Spartan fan, here’s hoping the statistics decide to shut up.
I’ll be taking this one in from the upper reaches of the Breslin Center, so the game recap probably won’t be up until early Thursday.