Big Ten Geeks: Is Illinois rebuilding?

Today’s point/counterpoint: whether those 9th and 10th place predictions for Illinois are on the money.

Point: No.

The notion seems ridiculous. We’re talking about a team with six consensus top-100 players on the roster—that’s more than Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And all of those top-100 players are sophomores or older, which is the most upperclass top-100 players in the Big Ten. So yes, while this team was not very good last year, there’s plenty of talent on the roster.

And what’s more, new coach John Groce figures to be a perfect fit for fixing what was wrong with this team last year. In conference play, no team made fewer of their three-point attempts last season than the Illini. Even worse, the team was at least somewhat perimeter-focused, as 35 percent of Illinois’ attempts came from behind the arc.

But Groce is just the guy to fix that. Remember, this guy comes from the Matta School of Shooting. In the eight seasons that Matta has coached at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have led the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage four times. Over that same span, no other team has led the conference in eFG more than once.

Groce’s Ohio teams were no different:

Year MAC Rank in eFG
2008-09 1st
2009-10 2nd
2010-11 1st
2011-12 9th

OK, so that last season was off, but given the track record that came before, I’m thinking it was an aberration. And so far, the early returns on the Illini suggest this team can light it up, particularly from three-point range. So far the Illini have made about 42 percent of their attempts from deep, and they aren’t shy about hoisting them, either (over 43 percent of Illinois’ field goal attempts have been from three-point range).

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that Illinois isn’t without its faults. But given the makeup of the roster (which is heavy on top-100 talent, especially in the backcourt) and the strengths of the new coach, it’s hard to see how Illinois doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament.

- Josh

Counterpoint: Yes.

The early returns are certainly encouraging, but I’m always a little skeptical when a mostly unchanged group of players makes such a dramatic turnaround in something as skill-dependent as shooting. Let’s drill down deeper on how Illinois’ most frequent shooters are faring compared to last season:

     2011-12        2012-13    
  3PM 3PA 3P%   3PM 3PA 3P%   3P% Change
D.J. Richardson 71 204 34.8% 14 44 31.8% -3.0%
Brandon Paul 54 162 33.3% 16 34 47.1% +13.7%
Tracy Abrams 9 35 25.7% 8 21 38.1% +12.4%
Tyler Griffey 16 56 28.6% 8 16 50.0% +21.4%
Myke Henry 4 25 16.0% 4 9 44.4% +28.4%
Joseph Bertrand 3 10 30.0% 4 9 44.4% +14.4%
TOTAL 157 492 31.9%   54 133 40.6%   +8.7%

Illinois’ most frequent three-point shooter, D.J. Richardson, is shooting slightly worse than his established norm, but everybody else has made a huge jump. You can certainly come up with rational explanations for those improvements–Abrams and Henry are going freshman-to-sophomore, Griffey and Bertrand have always had good looking strokes, Groce is a good shooting coach–but it’s hard to believe that all of it will stick. Perhaps the biggest outlier is Brandon Paul, who is a great all-around player but has never been a consistently accurate shooter.

So, when that reversion-to-the-mean kicks in, where does Illinois go for points? The Illini are shooting under 49 percent on twos and aren’t getting to the foul line. It just seems like there is too much potential for the offense to fall off a cliff in any given game, which is the type of thing that can wreck a resume.

That said, I do think Illinois will challenge for an NCAA bid. The defense appears solid, and there’s enough talent to knock off some very good teams when the shots are falling. The cupboard was certainly not bare, and John Groce appears to have put these players into a great position to succeed.

- Mike

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4 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (4 Comments)
Lamont white on 11/22/2012 @ 8:44am EDT Said:

No they aren’t on the money, but i think this team like being the underdog..when you look at the roster you see a Transfer Grad student, 3 seniors 2 of which have played good minutes all 4 years the other player barley got 5 minutes a game in his previous 3 years…a redshirt junior who barley go 7 ;minutes a game in his previous 2 years and 1 riding the bench..6 sophomores , which only 1 played over 5 minutes a game last year…This team is guard heavy..they will make some really good teams work to get a win if they only have 1 or 2 good guards…This team has 4 to 5 guards to will put it in the basket..

The last 3 days have done more for the ILLINI than the last 4 entire seasons..the offense attracts players who can go get their own shot..Recruiting is much better and the last 3 days didn’t hurt at all…from what i understand Groce doesn’t care what shots they take, as long as they play both ends of the floor..you will see a lot of 3s but Dj, Paul , Tracy and Bertrand will go to the basket as you can tell last night..20 for 21 free throws made and for the most part the game wasn’t close.

When players aren’t scared to make mistakes only learn from them, it makes basketball fun again..Msst might not like it but the ILLNI will be back in the top of the B1G sooner than later

Lamont

Tom T. on 11/23/2012 @ 7:18pm EDT Said:

The past few years was about player talent not matching with offensive schemes. Atheletes that run and jump were playing walk it up and work it around the perimeter. They wont run away with the conference, but they will put people on notice that good things are happening now. Some games will show their weakness, which is inside play. Lets not forget the “flying Illini was not a big team, just loaded with guys who could run and jump.

MMS on 11/25/2012 @ 6:52am EDT Said:

Whether or not the shots are falling, it’s their defense that’s going to carry them through the season. That’s all I have to say about that.

imdball on 11/28/2012 @ 1:02am EDT Said:

Win or lose the roster never suited Weber’s methodical offense and he was unable to adjust his system to his players skills. This team may not turn out to be great but there is enough talent there for Groce’s offense to give them a much better chance than they had in the past. .

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