Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.
What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.
Gotta have it list-topper: A bully on the block
Illinois is what it is. They are a team loaded with perimeter talent and three-point shooters and they play to their strength. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you have someone playing as well as Brandon Paul has this season and you have shooters as good as Tyler Griffey, Joseph Bertrand and DJ Richardson. What Illinois is missing, however, is that bulldog in the paint, their Deebo. They don’t really have anyone that has proven to be a defensive force inside, a guy that can wipe the glass clean while making it difficult for opposing big men to get position on the block.
Is Nnanna Egwu the guy? He’s the best athlete on the Illini’s front line, but he’s not a very good rebounder. Sam McLaurin has been incredibly active on the offensive glass this season, but he hasn’t been great on the defensive side of the ball. Illinois is 139th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. They will probably never be a great defensive team, but the easiest way for them to improve is to eliminate second chances opportunities.
Stocking stuffer: Brandon Paul consistency
It’s tough to truly be consistent when your game is built around three-point markmenship. That is, more or less, Paul’s game. This season he has become more aggressive off the bounce, especially in pick-and-roll situations, and he’s making better decisions on when to shoot, which is part of the reason he’s climbing NBA Draft boards after a hot start to the year. But that doesn’t change the fact that his game is centered around his jumper, and on the nights that jumper isn’t going down, the Illini can look rather mediocre. Jump shooters, by nature, are streaky. Illinois just needs to hope that Paul spends more time near the peaks and less down in those 2-12 valleys.
Planning on re-gifting: Three-point gunners
43.2% of Illinois’ field goal attempts come from behind the arc. 39.0% of their points this season have come via the three-ball. They quite literally live by the three and die by the three, and while they haven’t “died” yet — they are still undefeated despite a handful of close calls against mediocre competition — it’s a risk that John Groce is going to have to deal with all season long. Would it be nice if they attacked the basket and got to the foul line more often? Sure, they’d be more balanced, but it would also take away from some of their aggressiveness and what they do best. Maybe they just need to hope Brandon Paul continues to go off against top competition.