It’s A Start

So with Robert still recovering from his trip to NYC for a week of Illini basketball sadness and a series of intense high level meetings with IlliniBoard brass, game coverage duties fell to me (Tyler) tonight… [Read more…]

Te’Jon Might Be Pretty Good

I’ll level with you guys. The state of Illinois basketball is not great. An 0-3 week is an absolute gut punch that we’ll have a tough time recovering from. If you’re like me, you’ve heard enough about the demise of the program, and you’re not ready yet to give up on finding joy in Illinois hoops. So let’s talk about something positive shall we?

Let’s spend some time talking about the real debut of Te’Jon Lucas against Florida State. Lucas saw 18 minutes of action against Leonard Hamilton’s squad. In that time, he piled up 10 points, 4 assists, and 1 rebound. His incredibly efficient play adds up to an offensive rating of 120 for the game. Offensive rating deserves more explanation than it’s worth providing here. Suffice it to say this is an estimate of the number of points per 100 possessions a player would produce if the possessions he used in this game were extrapolated. Lucas’ 120 came in behind only Leron Black for Illinois, and ranked him well ahead of Abrams and Tate with ratings of 65 and 27 respectively.

Not every game will be like this. There will be bumps along the way, but we should feel pretty positive about what we’ve seen. Lucas showed a tight handle, an ability to get off passes and shots, and enough on ball defense to wall off bigger guards. Those of us waiting for years may have glimpsed the vision of the John Groce spread pick and roll offense against Florida State. That’s something we can get excited about.

Groce, a coach often criticized for letting perceived future stars languor on the bench, gave Lucas the ultimate vote of confidence. He let him run the show for significant stretches without the assistance (or hindrance) of either Abrams or Tate. It was even more heartening to see that Lucas’ duty wasn’t to shepherd the ball up the court, pass to Malcolm on the wing, and run to the opposite corner. He dictated the offense for significant stretches in ways we haven’t seen an Illinois point guard do in some time.

To further the point that Lucas truly ran the show while on the floor, Lucas’ usage rate was 29% for the game. A player has “used” a possession if the offensive trip ends with them shooting, assisting, or turning the ball over. Jaylon Tate, largely due to his lack of desire to shoot the ball, has only posted a usage rate of 29% once in his Illini career. He’s never used more than 29% of possible possessions. Abrams is yet to post a usage rate that high this year, and given that he largely functions as a weak side wing these days he may not.

So how did Lucas manage to so efficiently dominate on the ball against Florida State? Simply by using ball screens to create passing lanes or get into the lane himself. How novel.

Here Lucas recognizes that Malcolm’s man had to chip Morgan on his roll to the basket. This created an angle for a pass.
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On this play, Black gets inside position off of a switch, and Lucas fires a rifle shot through three defenders to get him the ball.
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Next, Florida State just kind of stopped guarding Aaron Jordan. If anything Te’Jon could have found him sooner.
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This shot, we got on back to back possessions as Rathan-Mayes refuses to leave Malcolm to cover Leron. Good choice on his part. It’s pick your poison when a ball handler gets around a screen into the lane.
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Now you should notice from the plays above what Te’Jon likes to do. He likes to get to the left side of the floor and receive a screen going to his right. He used that screen over and over again with Florida State showing either an unwillingness or inability to shut it down. Other teams are going to ICE that screen and force him away from the middle of the floor. If he can manage to hurt teams that take his preferred option away, then we have a real player on our hands.

Now, it’s a bit unfair to say that Florida State was completely y unaware of Lucas’ tendency to dribble left into the front court and get a ball screen going right. Te’Jon’s opposite number, CJ Walker, tried to shut this play down before it could occur a couple of times. Lucas proceeded to roast him on a little shoulder verve that made Walker believe he was spinning back to his right, only have him to explode with his left to the basket.

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That move shows pretty advanced feel for the game. Little dummies or fakes that get your defender to shift their weight can make up for a lack of true explosiveness or size. It’s a real delight to see a point guard make that type of play after years of guards who have more of a bully ball style of getting to the rack.

Jaylon Tate is perfectly capable of creating that same angle and getting head and shoulders past his man with a little shimmy. The difference is that he’s, justifiably, worried about getting stuffed. Lucas worries less about this with the floater he’s already shown an affinity for.

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It’s similar in concept to the one handed passes he rifled all over the floor and to the change of pace dribble. There’s suddenness to a good floater that negates the advantage of size and athleticism Florida State’s bigs had. Lucas doesn’t have to gather, he just lets it go with a little flick of the wrist. Athletes across all sports key on visual cues that dictate their reactions; however, when something like a shot or a pass comes half a second or half a step earlier than expected it can make great athletes look very average.

If you can take anything with you into what could be another rough week of Illini basketball, I hope you can see the positive elements of Lucas’ game. Groce may have finally gotten the type of ball dominant guard he wants, and the game against Florida State should have Lucas teeming with confidence. There will certainly be poor games along the way. He’ll need to find counter punches when teams start to focus on him. His defense on the ball was good against FSU, but off the ball he could certainly lacked urgency and showed his lack of quickness. Still, even if we drop the next two games, try to drink in those Lucas and Black/Finke pick and rolls, and know that they’re only going to get better.

Macro

After the Florida State loss – our third this week, putting us 4th out of four teams here in New York City – I attended both press conferences for both head coaches.  And they couldn’t have been more different.  And I think that’s a problem.  [Read more…]

No Excuses

Tried to write last night after the game. Couldn’t. Too agitated.  So I found a restaurant in New York City serving Thanksgiving dinner and my wife and I dined over turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and talked about anything besides Illinois Basketball.  Why? Because I believe we have better players than West Virginia. And we lost 89-57. [Read more…]

Eight Years

Once upon a time, in the spring of 2009, a wide-eyed 36 year-old kid decided to start a blog. Football, well, football is about to win 10 games, he said. (Nope – 3-9). But basketball – basketball is headed for a four-seed! (Nope – the NIT). Eight years later and… he’s still waiting. [Read more…]

Turkey and Turnovers

It’s been a weird week in Illinois basketball. Trounced McKendree and beat up on a team called Detroit Mercy that wasn’t a hospital’s rec league team. Jeremiah Tilmon re-committed or something, and Robert wrote a post about the future of the program. That feels about right for this week. [Read more…]

Next Year

My Detroit-Mercy postgame post will focus on… next season. Makes total sense, right? See with Jeremiah Tilmon signing yesterday, I got to thinking about the future.  And watching the game tonight, I kept thinking about the future. Specifically, what does this team look like without these seniors? [Read more…]

Back & Forth – Hoops

It’s that time of year.  I respond to this Back & Forth email from Steve about the Wisconsin game and then I’ll get this email from Tyler about Northern Kentucky.  So yesterday was the football B&F – today is basketball.  Here’s my emails with Tyler over the last few days.  [Read more…]

Malcolm Hill and the Big Orange Ball

Here I am, back for another year of weekly basketball recaps. Here we are in another year of the John Groce era. Here we are for another year of wondering if we’re a tournament team. Here we are for the final year of Malcolm Hill’s excellent Illini career. If all else goes poorly, please savor what’s left of a brilliant player’s time in the Orange and Blue. [Read more…]

2016 / 2017 IlliniBoard Basketball Preview

The season begins tonight.  Well, the season REALLY begins on Thanksgiving when we travel to New York City to play our first actual opponent (#20 West Virginia).  But with Illini Basketball already here, Robert asked all of our basketball writers – Tyler, Trevor, and Alex – to help me in assembling a full season preview. Here’s how it lays out: [Read more…]