Rewind - Kofi

Jan 14, 2022

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So it's been far too long since I fired up the old BetaMax for a Rewind post. I've generally wanted to avoid this series devolving into just a collection of Chris Farley type "That Was Awesome!" video clips, and when we haven't lost in almost a month - a stretch which included a 5-0 Big Ten start with an average win margin of almost 17 points and an epic beatdown of MIZNOZ, well there was that risk.

Then after I watched Kofi Cockburn single handedly ruin Maryland in the second half of our win against the Terps a week ago, I realized the next installment of Rewind was right there in front of me - all 7 foot and 285 pounds of him. So in this edition, let's take a look at the last month of Kofi - how we create offense for him, and also how he creates offense for himself and others.

One of the most fascinating things about this season is how we are using Kofi in a fundamentally different way compared to the last two seasons. With Ayo Dosunmu as his primary running mate (and Andre Curbelo backing him up), our offense was heavily ball screen oriented. We used Kofi screens to get Ayo going downhill, and of course, Kofi was a tantalizing target on the roll - like in this clip from the BTT game against Iowa…

Per Synergy Sports, we utilized Kofi in pure post up offensive sets on about 50% of his possessions last season. Compare that to this season in which we post him up on 65% of his offensive possessions (and only 5% on pick and roll). With Ayo running with the Bulls and Curbelo out for most of the year, we have de-emphasized the ball screens in favor of operating as an "inside-out" offensive team. We try to get the ball to Kofi in the paint and then react based upon whether opposing defenses choose to double Kofi in the post or play him straight up.

We still use Kofi in high ball screens - but more to create space for perimeter jumpers…

(drop coverage against Alfonso Plummer? Really Rutgers?) …or to kick start the action designed to get him back down into low post position.

In this clip, Jacob Grandison sets a down screen for Trent and then SPRINTS to the weak side corner. Coleman Hawkins replaces Grandison on the wing as Kofi sets a ball screen for Trent. The lane is now open for Kofi to establish post possession. Trent feeds Kofi, Rutgers sends the double, and remember Grandison sprinting to the corner?

The very definition of "Inside-Out" offense. This clip also highlights one of the major evolutions in Kofi's game - his willingness to pass out of the double team. Last season when teams doubled Kofi in the post, we weren't efficient at all - scoring only 0.616 points per possession (PPP). Kofi ended the year with a grand total of five assists. This season, Kofi is much more adept at making teams pay - averaging over an assist per game.

One of our most common offensive sets is a "4-Out/High Post" scheme with four perimeter players surrounding Kofi in the high post. The guards are stationed at or above the free throw line extended to keep all possible help defenders as far from the rim as possible. The beauty of the 4-out set is how often we are able to get Kofi between his defender and the rim…

One other interesting takeaway from this clip. Note the post entry from the top of the floor. We make the vast majority of our post feeds from that area of the floor (45% compared to 24% from the left wing and 31% from the right wing per Synergy.) This may seem counterintuitive because of the potentially difficult passing angle but it prevents the double team attacking from Kofi's blind side.

Another one of our go-to sets you might remember from last season is the "Horns" alignment with a guard at the top of the floor, two bigs at each elbow, and the two other perimeter players in each corner. From this set, with the array of shooters we have at our disposal, Kofi becomes quite the versatile weapon. Here he sets a simple flare screen to free up Alfonso Plummer and it's arrow slinging time…

Then just two possessions later he simply shoots down into the low post off and a quick ball reversal creates a passing lane again from the top of the floor and Rutgers has to go Hack-A-Kofi...

(Trust me - he made both free throws).

Then things really get fun as Kofi gets doubled in the paint and starts the ball moving…

Give the man a hockey assist.

We also will go with a 3-Out/2-In look on occasion. In this really fun clip from the Maryland game, Grandison and Kofi start in the high post and set screens to bring DMW and Plummer out into the 3-2 alignment. Trent passes out to the wing and vacates to the strong side corner while Grandison sets a brush screen for Kofi and quickly replaces Trent at the top of the floor. Donta Scott was fronting Kofi to guard against the wing post feed but when DMW reverses the ball back on top to Grandison, Kofi now has Scott pinned and it's over.

Of course we haven't forgotten how to use Kofi in the good old fashioned pick and roll. (We're just keeping it in the back pocket until Andre Curbelo returns.)

Let the record show Kofi only made one of those freebies.

Of course the Kofi Effect extends well beyond his scoring prowess in the low block. From the 4-Out set here, you see how spreading the floor around Kofi creates space for others to flourish. In this clip against Iowa, Kris Murray gets caught in no man's land trying to stay close enough to help on Kofi and Coleman Hawkins takes advantage…

Another side hustle of the Kofi Effect is his ability to create space for dribble penetration by sealing off his defender. Here Trent Frazier shakes free of Nebraska's Keisei Tominaga and gets a free stroll to the rim courtesy of the big fella…

One new wrinkle we've seen on a few occasions this season has us putting Kofi in sideline pick and roll action. Here against MIZNOZ we see Kofi and Trent with a little two man game that ends with a perfect pocket pass from Trent to Kofi running downhill…

And, of course, sometimes it's nothing fancy. Just give the big fella the ball wherever and let him do his thing…

These lefty throw downs just might be my favorite new thing from this season. See also this GET OFF ME!! dunk against Maryland…

I'll also use that clip of Kofi scoring on an offensive rebound to point out that in addition to the sets we run, Kofi gets a significant hare of his points from the offensive glass (18% per Synergy Sports) and he's the main reason we sit at #1 in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding percentage.

To double team, or not to double team? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of being dunked on alone, or to take arms as two or even three against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, attempt to end him?

The fundamental decision every defense has to make when facing Kofi is whether or not to double team him in the post. Over the season thus far, it's been a pretty even split. Per Synergy Sports, teams have played Kofi in single coverage 51% of the time while bringing a double (or a dig) 49% of the time. The results have been mixed but defenses have been slightly better using the double team with us scoring 0.957 PPP when Kofi is doubled compared to 1.018 PPP when teams play him straight up.

In Big Ten play, Rutgers and Iowa doubled Kofi more often than not, while in the last three games Minnesota, Maryland, and Nebraska have played single coverage. It wasn't much of a contest against Minny and Maryland as neither team had enough of a low post presence to match Kofi's physicality.

Neither Eric Curry…

nor Qudus Wahab…

…had any business trying to match up one on one against Kofi.

On the other hand, Nebraska's Derrick Walker had enough size and strength to give Kofi a battle and was successful at keeping Kofi off balance and away from the rim for most of the night…

It's certainly something to keep in mind with the next two games against Hunter Dickinson and Zach Edey/Trevion Williams.

But I can't finish this post on that kind of a downer clip. I think I should go full Farley for the last one. Remember that one time?…


Nall23 on January 14, 2022 @ 10:19 AM

Great article. I'm trying to make sure that I fully appreciate what I'm watching in real-time. I don't expect that we'll see another player quite like him.

SactownIllini on January 14, 2022 @ 10:53 AM

Was thinking the exact same message on all your points!

San Joaquin on January 14, 2022 @ 11:48 AM

Fantastic stuff. Love these. Thanks for putting the elbow grease into them...

Nabor568 on January 14, 2022 @ 01:23 PM

I’ve been wondering about those high passing angles into the post all season, thanks for the explanation!

Altgeld88 on January 14, 2022 @ 02:55 PM

The difference these days is that our team is deep, seasoned and knows how to win. They were so off kilter the other evening in Lincoln but bore down late (Trent, DMW) and Omar stepped up. As for Kofi, his ankle seemed just fine v. Maryland two nights after Minnesota. He looked gassed against Nebraska.

We could very well lose, of course. However, I approach games these days with a "it may be a rock fight but we have the chops to prevail" attitude. Rather like 15-20 years ago. It's a pleasant feeling.

Bear8287 on January 14, 2022 @ 04:52 PM

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skibdaddy on January 15, 2022 @ 11:38 AM

Kofi is a physical specimen that we will never be blessed to see another like him again. Enjoy him while we have him Illini brethren! May he bring us that elusive championship we've been striving for all these years!

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