As Kentucky’s 8th-seeded runners-up proved in 2014, a young team can lose a lot of games before hitting its stride. That’s the problem facing Illinois tonight: When will this talented, underperforming Michigan team click?
The Hunter Dickinson-Kofi Cockburn match-up is more media hype than reality. They like each other well enough, and as Coleman Hawkins said Thursday, Kofi’s better.
More intriguing for Illini fans who enjoy worrying : Caleb Houstan. The five-star recruit has started every game at the wing, but he’s shooting just 31% from the arc. In 32 minutes per game, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. His 21-28 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t terrible for a 6’8″ freshman. But it’s not great.
Another five-star, Francophone freshman Moussa Diabaté has started six games. Basically, journeyman Brandon Johns kept his seat warm while Diabaté got acclimated. Johns has returned to his role as spot filler. Diabaté’s minutes have gone up steadily.
A 6’11” PF, he’s the Wolverines’ second-leading rebounder with 6.1/game in just under 21 minutes per contest.
His 25 personal fouls is the same as Houstan’s, and just 6 fewer than Dickinson’s, despite playing a total of 250 minutes to their 400. Look for him to be disqualified. Coleman Hawkins will try his damndest to make that happen.
Grad transfer DeVante’ Jones came over from Coastal Carolina to replace Mike Smith in the one year PG role. He leads the team in assists (50 total, 3.8/game) and personal fouls (36) in 27 minutes per game.
He’s also the most accurate shooter from three at 46%, but he’s attempted only 24 on the season. That’s fourth-place on the team, with the center Dickinson not far behind at 17. Houstan has 64 attempts. Super-senior Eli Brooks has launched 65.
Brooks is the last Wolverine of note. At 44 years old, he’s one of those guys who’s “shown flashes” throughout his career. Also a guy who’s earned the trust of two head coaches, because he understands what they want him to do defensively.
Brooks is hitting 37% of his three-pointers this season. It’ll be interesting to see which of Michigan’s guards gets Trent Frazier. Brooks is the more experienced, but disrupting Jones might cause worse outcomes for every Wolverine possession.
Another freshman, SG Kobe Bufkin was B1G Co-Freshman of the Week (with Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens) in mid-December, but pummeling Southern Utah doesn’t prove much. (Tevian Jones scored 4 points in 22 minutes, shot 0-4 from the arc and 2-8 overall. One rebound. Two turnovers.)
The 8 points Bufkin scored against Central Florida might seem more impressive, but Michigan got slaughtered (85-71), so it’s hard to praise anything about that performance.
Bufkin has played in 10 of 13 games, averaging 11 minutes. On the season, he’s made 4-of-14 shots from deep (28.6%). A whole lotta meh.
In short, it’s impossible to predict tonight’s outcome. You just never know when freshman phenoms will have that “breakthrough” game.
Also, we don’t know who’ll suit up, if anyone.