Mar 04, 2019

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:

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?


IBFan on March 04 @ 09:08 AM CST

Believe the Beloved outrebounded Northwestern. The reason number of shots were low was due to the perpetual fouling by the kitties. Since there were a lot less shots, fewer opportunities for offensive rebounds. Last 6 or 7 minutes we didn't have a make I think, foul foul foul. Haven't rewatched game yet so not for sure.
It didn't seem we were playing poor defense, but maybe with all the beep beep baskets by us and all the fouling did number of possessions skyrocket? I know NW hit some threes but that second half scoring was crazy for them. Glad to have the win! Age helps, continuity helps. To become a tourney team and a middle pack Big10 that's fine. We needed better players and a better coach to start with as well to get back to where we all think this program belongs. You can hate Self, Krueger, Weber but they all can coach....Groce had us not being able to inbound, calling timeouts in the first minute, no offense, and a ladder. BU can straight up coach. The new players are better as well. Looking at this freshman class along with Feliz and the potential is awesome. Still have Higgs, adding January, Kofi....oh my. WeWillWin

skibdaddy on March 04 @ 11:19 AM CST

This team is looking good for a nice run next year. I'm a little worried about the following year though... we could lose Ayo, Trent & Feliz at the same time if we have a good season and the first 2 leave early. Adam Miller becomes the next big piece to keep this train moving in the right direction

ATOillini on March 04 @ 11:46 AM CST

I keep reading all theses references to "If Ayo stays". Has anyone closely related to any NBA program said that he's ready? I've watched a fair amount of NBA games this year, and I don't see it at this point. Not a great 3 point shooter yet. Needs considerably more strength. At a minimum he should stay at least another year. He's going to be a great college player if he keeps at it, but let's take one thing at a time....and I hope he does as well.

As to next year, I'm encouraged, but there are still too many times when I now see Giorgi and what is really four guards struggling to get rebounds....against Northwestern no less. Hoping Kofi, etc. plus some maturity on current roster will change that.

illiniranger on March 04 @ 11:57 AM CST

his name is floating around some mock drafts, but by no means is he a top half of the first round pick. probably to his benefit to come back, he'll receive feedback from the NBA at the end of the season.

my personal swag is 70/30 he stays.

Walkon on March 04 @ 12:02 PM CST

There have been a few legitimate mock drafts showing him as a fringe first rounder. Obviously he will submit his name for early entry as you are allowed to do so to get feedback directly from NBA personnel without losing eligibility.

It’s apparent he could use another year of maturity but with the NBA you have to consider two factors:

  1. Would an NBA team interested in Ayo rather have him develop and mature under their supervision as opposed to college.

  2. If the feedback he gets is something to the effect of “you are a fringe first rounder today but next year’s draft class is very deep so you’ll likely be a fringe first rounder next year as well” - then would be a solid reason for him jump early.

Sweetchuck13 on March 05 @ 09:53 AM CST

I still seems unlikely he'd jump but knowing our luck he'll actually go.

I'm no scout, but his 3-point form still seems a little funky to me - the way he doesn't seem totally set and really moves forward during the shot. It's definitely unique and it works for him, but would it be repeatable in the NBA night in, night out? It's so different than most shooters I'd love to know what scouts think of his technique.

mrmill on March 04 @ 08:15 PM CST

The athletic had an interesting article on the NBA draft. A somewhat recent trend is for teams in the late first round take a flyer and promise them a spot. Instead of letting him develop in college a year, they’d rather develop him in their own. Especially if they don’t think they’ll be picking high enough the next year to get him.

They specifically used Ayo as an example that fit that bill.

mrmill on March 04 @ 08:19 PM CST

BTW - the Athletic listed him as the #34 prospect.

Chukwuwumba on March 05 @ 08:02 PM CST

Good article. I like how you looked at this from another angle. You mentioned continuity can be bad and succeed (duke) but what about when continuity is good and team fails? Greenstein has an article about northwestern and what happened? He glossed over last year (even though continuity looked really good, and team put up same stats). Blamed a missed recruit, and not sure he had good reasons, but that team seems to be a good case study to for why it went wrong. I don’t remember their season, but vaguely remember Scottie Lindsay was hurt/played worse??? Stats seem same though.

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