Illinois at Potential Turning Point of Its Season

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 28th, 2017

In a Big Ten full of inconsistent teams, Illinois has been one of the most inconsistent. Nice wins over VCU, NC State, Michigan and Ohio State have been mitigated by disappointing losses to Winthrop, Maryland (twice) and Indiana. At 13-8 overall (3-5 Big Ten) and with an RPI of #43 , the Illini currently sit on the dark side of the Big Ten bubble. Nevertheless, the season is far from complete and the Illini have a path to the postseason if they can shore up several of their lingering issues over the last five weeks. Without question, John Groce‘s team needs to protect home court, but the next three games in particular — at Penn State today; then, home against Wisconsin and Minnesota — are crucial. The following are three important factors which could determine Illinois’ fate over the next eight days.

With Greater Consistency, Illinois Can Still Make a Run to the Postseason (USA Today Images)

  1. Malcolm Hill needs to be more assertive. Hill’s generally passive nature results in too few shot attempts over the course of a game. While sharing the offensive load with Kendrick Nunn last season, he was averaging 12.9 attempts per game. He is down to only 12.3 attempts per game this season. As a high-usage, high-efficiency player (116.3 ORtg), his goal should be to take at least 15 quality shots every time out in the next three games. Better offensive assertiveness on his part will correspondingly also open up looks for teammates Michael Finke (41.4% 3FG) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (35.8% 3FG) from behind the arc.
  2. Finke and Coleman-Lands need more time on the floor. For a team that goes through too many offensive dry spells, Groce’s best two shooters need to play as much as possible. Finke averages only 19.5 minutes per game while Lands is at around 25 minutes per contest, but the former regularly gets into foul trouble and the latter doesn’t get enough touches. Finke was a spark plug against Iowa in scoring 17 points and shooting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, while Coleman-Lands has struggled (6.0 PPG in his last four contests). Groce would be better served to play small ball by moving Leron Black to the bench in favor of Finke and sliding Coleman-Lands over to the wing.
  3. Te’Jon Lucas should continue to start at the point guard position. Illinois’ point guard troubles have been well documented over the past couple of years, but Lucas is in position to put those issues to rest. Lucas’ most impressive statistic over the past three games is his 14 free throw attempts. He has shown a knack for attacking the basket, allowing for easy points at the charity stripe. More importantly, he is giving Hill and Abrams a break every few plays to relieve them of the burden of creating their own shots. Playing the trio of Lucas, Abrams and Coleman-Lands together may also have the effect of picking up the offensive pace.
Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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