With each passing game, the 2014-15 Illini become more of what they are. Hazy statistical anomalies clarify, becoming firm realities.
The facts-based media was largely absent from Saturday’s game (Tribune & Sun-Times off covering bowl games, Mark Tupper perhaps recovering from one), so I thought I might stray from stream-of-consciousness into hard/fast numbers. It’s the end of “season one.” It seems like a good time.
There’s some good and some bad from the Kennesaw State game. From a statistical standpoint, Illinois didn’t vary far from the mean. Except when they did.
Here are some numbers to think about.
25 — Most minutes played by any Illini (Fittingly, it was Kendrick Nunn.)
6 — Turnovers committed.
16 —Turnovers forced.
7-1 — Jaylon Tate’s assist-to-turnover ratio
2-2 — Ahmad Stark’s assist-to-turnover ratio
19-36 — Illinois’ assists on made field goals
19-to-1 — Leron Black’s minutes-to-fouls ratio
7-to-5 — Austin Colbert’s minutes-to-rebounds ratio
7-7 —Rayvonte Rice from the field
6-7 — Malcolm Hill from the field
7-21 — Illinois’ 3FG
1-5 — Ahmad Starks 3FG
2-6 — Aaron Cosby 3FG
2-2 — Malcolm Hill/Rayvonte Rice 3FG
The “better shooting” narrative can be supported only by Rayvonte Rice’s ascension to true shooting-guard status. Through 13 games, Rice is hitting 47.1% of attempts from the arc.
John Groce credited Rice, in his Braggin’ Rights postgame remarks, for spending countless hours alone, unseen in the gym, perfecting his muscle memory. (The current thinking in college basketball seems to be that players alone can help themselves to shoot better, and it’s simply a matter of practice. There’s probably some neuroscience data to support this thinking.)
Ray continued to work his ass off in less measurable ways as well.
After an 0-for-2 night on Saturday, Kendrick Nunn dropped to 43.6% from long. Hitting both his treys brought Malcolm Hill to 40.6%.
Last year, Joseph Bertand connected on 48% of his FGs, and 38.5% of his 3FGs. Jon Ekey was 40.6% overall, and 36.6% from 3.
Maybe Cosby and Starks will get better as the competition improves. At the end of the non-conference schedule, their numbers show a distinct drop-off from last year.
Cosby is now 30.8% from the field, and 32.8% from distance. Starks has connected on 36.3% of his FGs, but only 31% from deep.
If the offense has improved — and there’s a reasonable (if subjective) argument that the offense has improved — it’s not because of the newcomers. It’s because of the leap forward from Rice and Hill.
Last year, Rice shot 43% from the field and Hill 38.3%. This year Rice is 51.4% from the field, Hill is 52.6 %.
Maybe the key to success in 2015 is to get Cosby and Starks “on track.” But maybe the key is to get productive minutes from them, while Kendrick Nunn finds his footing and joins Rice and Hill in the Illini Power Trio.
Cosby has already demonstrated an aptitude for rebounding from the small forward position. Hill is second on the team in total rebounds (after Rice). Hill’s defense has yet to garner accolades from his coach.
Nunn’s defense has won him praise on occasion, but not always. Whether his overall play is “tentative” compared to last year cannot be proven by stats. It’s hard to imagine this team reaching the height of its potential without a bad-ass Kendrick Nunn. Taking Ray for granted (which seems traditional & popular), Kendrick is the singular component that this team must be able to rely on.
There’s not much to say about Illinois’ defense in light of the Kennesaw State game. KSU may be the worst team Illinois will face in Groce’s tenure (let’s hope so!), often preferring to toss the ball out-of-bounds before an Illini defender could assume his stance.
They did, however, get a stunning number of wide-open looks from three. Is that a reversion to the mean?
That’s a reality with some statistical support, and some subjective debate. We’ll know in about 18 games whether the Illini got that problem corrected, among others.
On to Ann Arbor.