Rayvonte Rice went for 29 points and Illinois’ defense held Indiana without a field goal from the 6:44 mark in regulation until there were just 3.1 seconds left in overtime as the Illini brought home an 83-80 win over the Hoosiers.
Tracy Abrams added 17 points for the Illini while Joseph Bertrand chipped in with 13 points, numbers that aren’t exactly unprecedented given the talent that Illinois has on their perimeter. But they are somewhat surprising, as Indiana has a pretty good defense perimeter.
That’s a good sign for the Illini, as is putting up 83 points for a team that has had some scoring issues.
When do we start asking whether or not this team is legit?
At one point can we legitimately question whether or not this team can finish in the top four in the Big Ten?
There are two things that I want to see.
For starters, Illinois needs to get to the foul line more often. That’s probably the biggest knock on this group and the biggest reason they sit outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. There offense quite often devolves into Rice or Abrams going 1-on-1, and both of those guys have a habit of pulling up for a jumper instead of getting all the way to the rim.
The other issue is on the interior. Noah Vonleh had 16 points and nine boards today despite spending much of the afternoon in foul trouble. Nnanna Egwu and Jon Ekey are both capable of stretching the floor, which makes them a valuable weapon for a team that relies on penetration from the perimeter. But they are going to score a lot of point with their back-to-the-basket and they could end up struggling against some of the better bigs in the league.
Illinois started off Big Ten play the right way, winning their last two non-conference games before beating Indiana today.
But one possessions wins over the likes of UNLV, Missouri and Indiana are not exactly overly impressive wins.
The Illini head to Wisconsin January 8th. Let’s see what happens then.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.