Braggin’ Rights In Pictures

Our photographer, Jonathan, is a St. Louisan like me. So it was a no-brainer to have him shoot the Braggin’ Rights game. He enjoyed it immensely – even the part where he nearly got trampled by an excited, pants-falling-down Michael Finke as the freshman rushed the court. So here’s a photo spread of Braggin’ Rights win number 2 in a row (of 14). [Read more...]

Ball-You-Man – Miznoz

I know Robert has said he loathes Mizzou basketball. As a metro east-er, I’m right there with him. Losing to the Tigers hurts me in a much deeper place than any other loss. The good news for us is this vintage of Mizzou basketball isn’t very good. The bad news is if we lose it’ll hurt that much more.

Let’s get to the breakdown.

By the numbers

The Mizzou Tigers head to St. Louis at 5-5 on the season. Kenpom ranks them the 159th team in the country. They’ve played four games against teams in the top-50 and have lost by nearly 20 in every game. First year head coach Kim Anderson is in an interesting situation. Everyone knew this team would be a mess and after the season opening loss to UMKC any positive expectations went immediately south. This gives Anderson the freedom to let his young team experiment and fail. They have legitimate talent up and down the roster. Freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar and Jakeenan Gant were top-50 recruits as was sophomore Johnathan Williams III. They just don’t do the little things well yet or function properly as a unit at all times. This team has great potential, but it may be a couple of years before they realize it.

Mizzou’s offense puts up a putrid .957 points per possession (209th nationally). They only thing they do remotely well is get to the line, where they hit at 67.7%. Most of that falls on Johnathan Williams III, who ranks in the top 40 players at drawing fouls, but only converts free throws at a 66% rate. They’re a decent three point shooting team at 35.9%, but they’re fairly selective with their attempts. That’s actually a positive for Kim Anderson, as he’s got young guys who can shoot it, but they resist the urge to chuck every possession.

On defense, the Tigers give up 1.03 points per possession (256th nationally). They have a young team that doesn’t play system sound, and that’s to be expected at this point. The more worrisome habit for Coach Anderson is that several of his perimeter players play lazy, leaving rotating bigs hanging out to dry. Mizzou has one of the worst opponent FTA/FGA ratios, which at 47.5% is 304th in D-I. There are decent pieces to work with, though. MGC already flashes plus wing defense and Johnathon Williams and retired accountant Ryan Rosburg are good rim protectors.

Who are they on offense?

Honestly, the Tigers don’t have much of an identity on offense. The run this funky dribble weave thing to start possessions like they’re the Harlem Globetrotters, but the only purpose seems to be draining time off the shot clock. They don’t have great point guard play, although the adventures of Wes Clark is must see TV. His shameless dribble fests have less restraint and self-awareness than House of Cards.

The positive for them has to be the play of Johnathan Williams III. Gill-Caesar comes in as the leading scorer, but Kim Anderson clearly gives him the freedom to learn good shots from bad by trial and error. Williams has a mature post game with a mix of back to the basket moves and face up drives. He generates free throws at a phenomenal rate (69th best in all of D-I). He takes about half of his shots at the rim, where he finishes at a decent 60% clip. If he manages to up his FT% to the low 70s and relegates the face up jumpers to “show me” moves rather than a part of his regular diet, he can be a very potent offensive player.

Williams is also a great passer out of double teams. He stays strong with the ball and allows the second defender to over commit before hitting a flashing cutter or an open shooter.

In a similar situation, Gill-Caesar hoists up a contested bank shot.

Like I said there’s talent there, but no restraint or sense of purpose yet. Gill-Caesar is a deadly three point shooter, cashing in on 39% of his attempts. He also realizes this is a strength and takes about 39% of his shots from range. The flaw in his game is the 41% of shots that are 2 point jumpers, which he converts at a 30% rate. There’s no point to those shots unless they buy you an open three or easy layup later in the game.

MGC’s game sort of epitomizes what’s broken with the Mizzou offense. There’s too much individual play that results in difficult 2 point shots. He’s probably the biggest culprit, but he’s also a budding star who can use this lost year to experiment with his game. The Tigers show flashes when they move the ball via the pass rather than the dribble.

It’s not that they’re incapable of being a solid offensive team, they simply can’t put possessions like that together on a consistent basis.

Who are they on defense?

They’re young. That’s really all there is to it. They have athletic long armed players, which every coach wants on defense, but they suffer the mental breakdowns that young teams do. The Tigers ball watch, miss rotations, and make bad reads.

Here are the Tigers defending a pick and roll, with freshman big D’Angelo Allen guarding the screener. He’s supposed to hedge here and he knows that, but he doesn’t get out into the ball handler’s path at all. The big rolls towards the basket and either #45 Keanu Post or #15 Keith Shamburger have to tag or bump the roll man. Neither does and he gets himself a layup.

That stuff is coachable. A young big getting caught in a pick and roll happens. It’ll be up the Kim Anderson to sort that out in practice, but in the meantime we can take advantage of their freshman heavy line ups. The Tigers will play 4-5 freshman big minutes and all of them will make mistakes just like that.

The more concerning element is the sheer laziness the Tigers occasionally show on defense.

You can’t let some schmuck from Elon run right around you and expect to stop Ray Rice with a full head of steam. Defense at the college level is hard and it takes not only the understanding of principles I talked about above in the pick and roll example, but it requires consistent effort and energy. Kim Anderson should be happy to let his team experiment and learn by failing, but defense like that can’t fly. We can and should be able to get around initial defenders on the perimeter and live at the line in this one.

And just a quick one before we close here, I give you Wes Clark, adventure hero in his own mind, picking up 50 feet from the hoop and hip checking his man…

If he goes off for 20 I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself.

For Mizzou to win

They need to get hot from beyond the arc, which they are capable of. They’ll also need to bring a focused effort on the defensive end, which I doubt they’re capable of.

For Illinois to win

We need to stick to shooters and force perimeter players to use the dribble to get open. We’ll have to live with what Johnathan Williams III does one on one with Malcolm. On offense, I would like to see us get to the line around 15-20 times and make most of them.

Prediction

72-59 Illinois

Words

Holidays can be stressful. So much to do, so little time. Many people turn to massages for stress relief, or maybe they’ll go to a funny movie and unplug for two hours. Me? I need to write. Even though I have 1,001 things on my to do list right now, this is most important. I’m headed to my first Braggin’ Rights game in 15 years tomorrow, and I need to write some words about it. [Read more...]

Ball-You-Man – Hampton

So last time I said I wasn’t nearly as down as Robert was, but I have to say, I’ve moved a little closer after the Oregon game. I’m probably still not where most people were post Villanova. We’ve got plenty of season left, and I can’t sit here and believe Starks and Cosby aren’t significant improvements over Bertrand and Ekey. Whether or not they’re significant improvements over Bertrand, Ekey, and Abrams remains to be seen.

Anywho let’s get to the Hamptons!

    By the numbers

The Hampton Inns of the MEAC conference come in at 4-5 with blowout losses to Iowa and Syracuse. They also dropped a game to American. After that loss, they won three straight before heading to Champaign.

We should hope to have our way with this team, on both ends of the floor. Hampton turns the ball over on 22.4% of possessions (290th nationally), which should give us plenty of chances to get out and run. They also don’t force many turnovers (262nd nationally). Usually, when you get a small school with peripherals this bad early on you expect they’ve played a murderer’s row of power conference teams. Not so, in their nine games the Inns have played five teams ranked 300+ by Kenpom (4-1 record).

On offense, the Pirates shoot terribly from all over the floor (30.4% 3FG% and 45.4% 2FG%). Contributing to that low percentage from inside the arc is their almost comical block rate. The Inns get stuffed on 12.2% of possessions, around 25% more often than the D-I average. The leading culprit, junior guard and noted small person Deron Powers shoots just 33% from both inside and outside the arc. Your classic lose-lose proposition. Luckily for us our smaller person, Ahmad Starks, is putting up just an icy, but not full on Elsa, 35% from both inside and the great beyond…sigh

Hampton relies on a quartet of upperclassmen for the bulk of their scoring. Deron Powers and Brian Darden, the guards, average around 10 and 9 points per game respectively, largely doing their damage from the outside. Powers also dishes out about 3.5 assists a game. The rest of the offense comes from two combo forwards. Dwight Meikle shoots a solid 50.6%, largely from two, and 88% from the line on his way to 11 points per game; meanwhile Quinton Chievous gets his 12 per game from inside and out.

On defense, Hampton has held opponents to a VERY impressive 44.4% eFG%, but again, they’ve played five teams amongst the worst 51 in all of D-I. Kenpom, rightly, adjusts their defense to around 195th nationally. Nothing we shouldn’t be able to handle. This team has a real propensity to foul, so I look for us to get to the line often. And by us I mean Rice and Hill. Cosby leads the also-rans in FT attempts this year with a mere 18. Rice and Hill have combined for 100.

Hampton goes about 9-10 deep on most nights so this won’t be a team we can just run off the floor. We’ll have to beat them by playing the solid ball we’re capable of. That said, they’re not very good so if we don’t appear to be very solid I’ll be disappointed.

    Prediction

We’re going to win so putting up a point total prediction becomes more of a reflection of what I want to see. Why don’t we just talk about that then?

For me to feel good about this team after this game, which may not be possible, I’m looking for improvement in execution of the offense. Are we generating easy looks on offense? In the Miami game, we were, in the Villanova game a bit less so, in the Oregon game, not much at all. Outside of Hill and Rice no one has created anything positive off the bounce in the last three games. This was billed as a team of dynamic wings who could shoot it and attack when defenders closed out too aggressively. We definitely haven’t seen the latter and that has been magnified as the shooting dried up.

Cosby is a shooter and I believe those guys will find their shot. Cosby and to a lesser extent Nunn need to find that slashing element. Nunn has the baseline drive and pull up floater. What does Cosby have to complement his shooting? As for Starks, I want to see him prove he can get to the rim and finish. I don’t think he can so maybe that’s a moot point, but that’s the only justification for taking a long two. If you’re regularly a threat to get to the paint and defenders are dropping deep then you have to do something to pull them back towards you. Right now, those long twos are high upside turnovers.

Oh and let’s just throw in a number in there as a benchmark:

82-65 Illini

Ball-You-Man – Oregon

We’re coming off a tough loss last time out against a very good Villanova team. I’m not nearly as down about it as Robert is, but this next game will be a good measuring stick for me. If we are as good as we think we are we should blow the doors of this Oregon team. If we lose we need to start re-evaluating what we expect this season to be. Let’s get to the numbers shall we?

    By the numbers

Oregon boasts a solid top 75 offense per Kenpom’s adjusted efficiency metrics as well as a top 100 defense. They’ve dropped some games they probably think they could have won including a big disappointment vs Ole Miss at home last Sunday. They’ll have had a week to stew about it so expect to see a hungry motivated Ducks squad.

The Ducks like to play quickly on offense, with the #17 quickest average possession time. Illinois comes in at #29, so we should expect this game to be played at a breakneck pace. Oregon has limited turnovers and hits the offense glass hard, ranking in the top 100 in both categories. They love to let it rip from three with nearly 40% of their field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. They’re hitting at 35% from there, but that number feels low given Joseph Young’s current cold spell.

On defense, they haven’t done a great job limiting other teams from beyond the arc, giving up 37% from deep. They do rank #11 in opponent 2 point FG%, however, which is impressive given their overall lack of size.

Let’s actually talk about the size component. This team is insanely small. The Ducks don’t have a player over 6’7 on the roster. Unfortunately for them this isn’t a Flying Illini team where you don’t have a traditional big, but everyone is 6’5+. They’re most used lineup this year goes 6’0, 6’2, 6’5, 6’6, and 6’7. They can switch literally everything because everyone is short, so they got that going for them, which is nice…

    Who are they on offense?

They are Joe Young.

If you are unaware of who that is or only know the name, allow me to introduce him to you:

Joseph Young is a 6’2 atom bomb who shoots fireballs out of his hands like freaking Ryu.

HADOUKEN!

hadouken

The senior transfer from Houston averages around 20/5/5. He’s shooting 56% from 2, 98% from the line (he’s only missed one free throw), and 27% from three. Don’t let that three point percentage fool you; he’s a career 40% shooter from deep.

Let’s see how he puts up those big numbers on a nightly basis. Joseph Young is the catalyst for Oregon’s uptempo offense. He pushes off both misses and makes. When he gets rolling downhill, he eats backpedaling defenders alive.

Now let’s say you’ve been hit for a layup on the quick push, you know you have to get two feet in the paint and take that driving lane away. Well, Young happily takes pull up threes in transition when no one shows. Here he does his best Steph Curry impression after getting a drag screen off a Michigan make:

Averaging nearly five assists a game, Young is also a willing passer in transition.

This is a fun team to watch when they get out and run. They’re also very hard to stop. The key will be limiting their transition and early offense opportunities. After that, we’ll need to shut down pick and rolls involving Young. He appears far more mortal in the half court, where he can struggle to get free. Check out Ricky Doyle with absolutely textbook pick and roll defense to shut the Ducks down. He hedges out, turns back the ballhander, and recovers to his man.

Stopping transition is how you slow this team down. Great pick and roll defense, like above, is how you completely stymie them (and anyone else really). Outside of Joe Young, the Ducks all like to drive to the bucket. Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin, at 6’6 and 6’7 respectively, will both at times be the biggest player on the floor for Oregon. Both players like to catch on the wing, face up, and drive hard to their right.

I think Egwu matches up well with both players as he moves pretty well laterally. This will probably be a game where we have more trouble playing Maverick Morgan, however, and Colbert will be the backup center. Morgan does some nice things on offense, but he’s a disaster on defense. There’s no way he can guard 20 feet out.

The last player to really look out for on the offensive end is Dillon Brooks. The freshman from Canada is sort of Malcolm Hill Lite for them. He shoots the three well on selective attempts, shows a mature offensive game, and hits the offensive boards hard. If Young doesn’t go off, Brooks can step up and fill some of the void behind him. We’re lucky to have multiple plus wing defenders, which makes a difficult matchup for this Oregon offense.

    Who are they on defense?

The Ducks are a mess on defense. Despite some decent peripherals, top 50 in block% and eFG%, they just don’t look very good on this end. The Ducks play man to man with a token 1-2-2 press just to slow opponents down. They don’t use the pressure to turn teams over (#307 in D-I in creating turnovers). Hell, the 1-2-2 doesn’t even always slow opponents down. Watch Spike Albrecht go 60 feet unabated for a layup:

Notice Benjamin at the top of the screen (he’s got the long hair and the short sleeve shirt) not rotate at all. That’s a theme.

You’d think the court was made of mud the way this guy moves on defense.

What’s the point of rotating if that’s the effort you’re going to give? All that “close out” did was take him out of rebounding position.

Let’s do one more of Benjamin because he’s terrible, and I’m feeling kind of ornery tonight. He gets caught ball watching, and he should give up a back door alley-oop with a better pass.

Speaking of ball watching, let’s do a quick look at why it’s hard to play freshman. Dillon Brooks, who’s averaging a very impressive 14 points a game, still finds himself lost on defense. He just misses the last part of Ball-You-Man. Gotta know where your man is at all times.

Sure hope the upperclassmen are setting a good example for the young fella. Show Brooks how it’s done Dwayne Benjamin.

idonteven

That’s a lot of ragging on this team’s defense, and in particular, ragging on a guy who plays less than 20 minutes a night. This team is capable of good defense. They can put together multiple possessions of high effort rotations that dispirit offenses. It remains unclear whether they can bring that enthusiasm for defense for an entire game. I tend to think not.

    For Oregon to win

Joseph Young goes off and one of Brooks or Cook step up behind him. Basketball is a simple game. You put the sphere in the elevated cylinder more times than your adversary, and you win. Joseph Young is one of the absolute best at that. They’ll need play their game, getting out on both misses and makes. The Ducks will also need consistent effort on the defensive end to prevent us from going on runs.

    For Illinois to win

We will have to limit Oregon in transition, forcing them to play against our very stout half-court defense. Still, you can’t keep a good man down. We’re going to have to score the ball to win this one. That means while Malcolm and Ray continue to get theirs the nucleus of role players need to provide something consistent. That doesn’t mean Nunn, Starks, and Cosby all need to go 2 of 5 from three, but collectively they need to chip in an efficient 20 or so points.

    Prediction

We get a couple big spurts in the second half and put them away early.

73-61 Illinois

Ball-You-Man – American

Getting in the car right now on my way to Champaign.  My prediction: I’ll arrive at media row 3 minutes and 12 seconds from the tip.  Better not get caught by any stoplights between here and there.  Here’s Trevor’s preview of the American… Americans?  What’s their mascot?  American Jeffersons? American Apple Pies? [Read more...]

Something I Like – Nnanna Egwu’s Passing

In a feature I think I (Brumby) would like to continue, but no guarantees, I am going to focus on “Something I Like” from the Illini either in a recent game or a continued trend I have noticed. It has always easy for me to pick on the bad, so I am going to try to turn a new leaf with this feature. Today’s thing I like: Nnanna Egwu’s passing.

[Read more...]

Back & Forth – Vegas

Four new posts this morning!  This is a back-and-forth with Tyler about Vegas. Over there is a back-and-forth with Steve about clowning Fitzee.  Then there’s two Miami previews below: Trevor looks at Miami’s offensive and defensive schemes and Brumby looks at the numbers.  It’s the moosssst wonderful tiiiiiime of the year. [Read more...]

Ball-You-Man – Miami

So now it begins. We’re ranked, on the road, playing a ranked Miami team. These next four games, especially Miami and Villanova, will tell us so much about the trajectory of this season. Up first, Miami. Here’s Trevor’s lengthy (and awesome) preview: [Read more...]

What’s Next?

Bowl qualification in Year Three.  It’s an Illinois tradition.  Lou Tepper did it with defense.  Ron Turner did it with offense.  Ron Zook did it with recruiting.  Tim Beckman did it with program building.  None of the first three could be sustained – one was too hot, one was too cold, one was juuuuussst wrong.  So where is Beckman planning on taking this? [Read more...]