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122-60 and 97-38. 62 and 59 point wins respectively. So did we learn anything? Well, I guess we can enjoy fun little nuggets like this one: "Illinois is the first ranked team since 1989-90 Oklahoma to win its first two games by at least 55 points each. And the last top-10 team to do it was 1972-73 NC State, which finished undefeated that season."
But did we learn anything? There are questions that even the most casual of college basketball fans can ask while trying to ascertain the quality of a college basketball team. Questions such as:
- Do you have punctuation in your school name?
- Are you a state that's not really a state?
- Do you have more than one direction in your school name?
- Can your school name be confused with a house of British nobility?
- Are you a church disguised as a basketball team?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you are most likely playing a cupcake. It's science. As such, there is no question as to the caliber (or lack thereof) of Illinois' first two opponents. Neither offered anything in the way of resistance.
Yet, this is a good time I think to remind everyone once again that scoring margin matters. No better reminder of this is 2015 when Illinois needed a buzzer beating Jalen Coleman-Lands three to beat a similarly bad Chicago State team at those awful games at the Convention Center in Springfield just before the SFC grand re-opening. Coaches always say a win is a win and you'd rather learn tough lessons without losing and blah blah, but when a 300 level KenPom team took you to the wire it was a pretty good harbinger of things to come for an Illini team that ended that season 15-19.
Good teams beat bad teams. Great teams eviscerate bad teams. Of the top ten teams in scoring margin last season - seven of them ended the year in KenPom's top ten. You tend to rack up a lot of scoring margin equity feasting on cupcakes. The Illini certainly got more than their Thanksgiving's feast worth in these first two games.
But again, did we LEARN anything? Actually I think we did.
1. We already know the rotation. Barring injury or extreme foul troubles, it's your five starters (Ayo-Trent-Miller-DMW-Kofi) plus Giorgi, Grandison and Curbelo. Austin Hutcherson isn't even on campus right now (home in California seeing a specialist for his back injury) and BBV could make a push if healthy, but until I see either of them at least dressed for a game I'm not factoring them into any rotation discussions. If fringe rotation guys like Coleman Hawkins and Jermaine Hamlin are only averaging single digit minutes in 60 point blowouts, then I'm not seeing how those minutes increase when we're playing at Cameron Indoor.
2. Andre Curbelo is going to play 1000 miles per hour. He's also going to commit a million turnovers, and I'm here for every one of them - because he's going to balance those out with just as many "Twitter eyeball emoji" plays. While you might think Brad Underwood would spontaneously combust on the sideline watching some of Curbelo's unforced errors, he's shown an admirable degree of restraint in letting him play through his freshman exuberance. Of course, we'll see how far that restraint goes against Baylor.
3. Adam Miller is Big Ten ready. He's not going to shoot 60% from the arc and he's not going to average 21 ppg in Big Ten play, but he's got a Big Ten frame and Big Ten game and he is going to be a FACTOR for this team.
4. DMW and Jacob Grandison are going to combine for about 40 minutes of glue per game. Need a tough rebound, need a defensive stop, knock down an occasional shot - these are your guys. They aren't going to have the flash of, but they are going to combine for 8-10 points and 5-6 rebounds a game.
5. The schemes from last year are the schemes for this year. As we expected, we've not seen any spread offense nor any pressure defense. That said, do not confuse a lack of pressure with a lack of intensity. Illinois had five players named in a recent Athletic poll of Big Ten players as answers to the question of "Hardest player to score on in the league?" Trent Frazier, DMW, Kofi Cockburn, AyoDosunmu, and even Giorgi Bezhanishvili received at least one vote. (Giorgi must have blocked someone's shot at some point and that dude had a long memory). Offense can be fleeting, but as the saying goes - defense travels, and I think the Illini want that to be a recurring theme.
6. Illinois is going to be a rebounding force. We were among the top offensive rebounding teams in college basketball last year, but were rather pedestrian on the defensive glass. Through these first two games, Illinois has rebounded 62% of their own misses while grabbing 93% of defensive rebounding opportunities. Chicago State had exactly one offensive rebound today. Of course those numbers won't sustain, but you can bet the emphasis on rebounding will.
7. As Robert so expertly pointed out in our BB preview - Ayo is awesome (but you knew that one already.)
Happy Thanksgiving all!!