After the Purdue game, Robert - taking a cue from Purdue coach Matt Painter's post game comments - talked up the importance of experience as it related to college basketball - and specifically to the immediate future of Illinois basketball.
I was going to chime in on the subject as there was some solid discussion rolling in the comment section, but I decided to wait and use my post-Northwestern game column today as an opportunity to offer my thoughts on the whole "experience" idea. .
Thankfully we held on to beat Northwestern today, because a loss would have necessitated a much darker and wholly less optimistic post. So despite allowing the Wildcats to put up 49 second half points (normally a good entire game for them) in what turned into a rather annoying and exasperating exercise, a win is a win as they say. Plus it's not as if I'm going to complain too much about style points from an 11 win basketball team. Beating the Nerds is always a good thing. Full stop.
But more on the actual game a little later, though, because as we are all to some degree viewing this remainder of this season as a predictive template for next year, I want to talk about the concept of continuity - and how that differs from looking at simple roster experience.
For basketball purposes, continuity can be defined simply as how many minutes are played by the same players as the season prior.
Our good friend Ken Pomeroy had a fascinating take on the value of continuity in this article for the Athletic here: https://theathletic.com/200573/2018/01/02/kenpom-experience-is-important-but-roster-continuity-is-the-key-to-success/
If you don't subscribe to the Athletic (which again - you should), the gist of the column is that while there is a subtle numerical trend favoring an experienced roster over an inexperienced one, there is a much more robust correlation favoring roster continuity.
Experience can be overrated because good young players should be playing ahead of bad upperclassmen. A player who averaged 30 minutes a game as a junior who sees his playing time as a senior shaved down to 20 minutes per game because a stud freshman was getting that tick - well that "experience" just isn't worth that much - no matter how many platitudes about "senior leadership" coaches will offer up.
So Pomeroy took a look at a decade of data and found that 199 teams in that span carried forth a continuity of minutes of 75% from one season to the next. Of those teams, 161 (over 80%) finished with an adjusted efficiency margin in the upper half of their conference average in that "second season". For comparison, Illinois sits 12th in the Big Ten in adjusted efficiency margin this season. All seven teams in the upper half of that stat in the conference this year are solid NCAA Tourney teams. Illinois' continuity "factor" this season? Just 41%. Our best in the last decade? 62% in John Groce's last season. Stupid Kendrick Nunn.
Just about a quarter of the KenPom top-40 this year have continuity factors above 70% - with Tennessee being the poster child - currently 7th ranked in KenPom with an 82% continuity of minutes compared to last season. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin (75%) and Iowa (72%) lead the conference in continuity of minutes from last season - and both took huge leaps in performance this year.
Continuity is not, of course, the end all be all. The best way to put together a great team is still to go out and recruit two or three NBA Lottery picks each season - or at the very least two or three McDonald's All-Americans. Even if those teams don't stay together long, they are still likely to be great teams year in and year out. I mean it's not as if Duke is suffering because of its 21% continuity this season.
But short of that - and let's be honest here - Illinois' roster remains quite short of that, the blueprint for Illinois to build an upper division Big Ten team is to dovetail continuity with experience. If Ayo Dosunmu returns for his sophomore season, then barring no other unexpected attrition, we should get exactly that. We will enjoy the sophomore leaps from a freshman class already oozing with potential combined with a trio of experienced upperclassmen in Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, and Andres Feliz. That's potentially the best of all worlds.
Now about that game today...
+ Andres Feliz was a grown ass man. A career high 26 points - including 15-16 from the foul line. He set the tone for the game in the first half and closed it out down the stretch when things got dicey near the end.
+ I mentioned the 49 point second half from Northwestern above. Not good. Keep in mind that they had averaged 54 points PER GAME in their last five. Brad Underwood experimented with full court pressure today - but it was largely unsuccessful with Illinois forcing just 8 turnovers (a season low) and giving up 56% shooting on two point attempts and 43% on three point attempts in that second half.
+ Northwestern was able to flip the script today. Illinois' preferred style is to win the "shot volume" game, but with the Illini only forcing the 8 turnovers and also only grabbing 5 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats managed to get off 18 more shots than the Illini today. That might usually have proven disastrous, but Illinois won this game at the foul line. 87% for the game on 38 attempts - including 9-10 in the final 4:00. The 33 makes from the line were the second most by an Illinois team since 2010.
+ It's looking more and more like Illinois will have to win one of it's next two games to avoid playing on Wednesday at the Big Ten Tournament - which if that did happen would likely mean another game against Northwestern, who after today is pretty much guaranteed to finish last in the conference. I DON'T want to play on BTT Wednesday, and I DON'T want to play Northwestern again, so why don't we just all agree to go ahead and put this Indiana team out of their misery on Thursday - OK?