Hoops Preview: Illinois 2018-19 Comment Count

Brian January 10th, 2019 at 11:32 AM


WHAT #7 Michigan (15-0, 4-0 Big Ten) vs
#111 Illinois (4-11, 0-4 Big Ten)
WHERE Alumni Association Of The University Of Michigan Center
Champaign, IL
LINE Michigan –10 (Kenpom)


Houston's defeat yesterday leaves just two undefeated teams standing: Michigan and Virginia. Virginia goes to Clemson before tackling two top-ten Kenpom teams: #8 VT at home and #1 Duke on the road. Michigan's immediate path is friendlier, with two games against probable non-tourney teams before a visit to the Trohl Center. The Last Unbeaten is within reach.

Perhaps more importantly, every game separating Jordan Poole from his desultory start to the season brings Michigan closer to a three-headed monster on offense. And Brandon Johns putting up 8 and 8 in 13 minutes against Indiana hints at an adequately deep bench.

FWIW, Isaiah Livers is progressing but still questionable:

“He was able to practice yesterday, to somewhat degree,” Beilein said. “And we’re very hopeful.

“He was much different than he was yesterday in practice. I can’t tell you that he’s going to go, but he was much … it seemed like he was out of a lot of the pain he was in before.”

I'd bet he sits. Illinois does not have any injury issues.


Click for big.

image (13)

Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 13 Trent Frazier So. 6'1, 170 68 25 105 No
Promising FR last year; hasn't progressed at all. 43/40 split so run him off line, will set up teammates but 18 TO rate.
G 2 Ayo Dosunmu Fr. 6'5, 185 68 23 103 No
Composite #32 FR is near identical to Frazier statistically but more of a transition slasher.
F 44 Aaron Jordan Sr. 6'5, 210 72 15 116 No
Low usage Just A Shooter. Does venture inside the line some… but shouldn't (33%).
F 11 Kipper Nichols Jr. 6'7 227 57 21 99 Yes?
Athletic wing has seen 3P% collapse and FT rate halve, ORTG has dropped from 115 to 101.
C 24 Giorgi Bezhanishvili Fr. 6'9, 235 59 23 98 Yes
From Georgia. Not that one. Composite #370 but outperforming that. Splits shots 50/50 between rim and jumpers and creates half his own shots. Not an athlete or rim protector.
G 21 Da'Monte Williams So. 6'3, 200 58 12 108 Meh
Backup SG shooting 36/30 on minuscule usage but keeping head above water with massive FT rate. Bodes unwell for him vs M.
C 5 Adonis De La Rosa Sr. 6'10 255 16 24 88 Yes
Kent State grad transfer had 102 ORTG last year despite shooting well because of a 29 TO rate. This year shooting 38%, still getting to line a lot.
F 0 Alan Griffin Fr. 6'5, 180 18 28 77 Meh
Composite #185 FR shooting 47/30 so far with incredible 35 TO rate.
C 35 Samba Kane Fr. 7'0 220 10 19 82 Yes
Composite #281 FR is giant Senegalese gent in need of much polish. 12% block rate though.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]


Illinois is 4-11 and in a battle with Rutgers for the title of worst team in the Big Ten, but they're not outright dire. They unwisely loaded up their nonconference schedule and have suffered many losses as a result. These are usually competitive. Illinois's lost to Gonzaga by 6, ND by two, Georgetown by 8, Indiana by 8, and Northwestern by two. Only the Georgetown game was at home.

This is not a team like the first year Rutgers was in the league and singlehandedly stole a seed line from every team by virtue of being the ~250th team on Kenpom. They're bad, no question. They're not abominable.

In a way this is impressive since second-year coach Brad Underwood, who you probably remember as Oklahoma State's coach from the AHHHH EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE first round barn-burner in the 2017 tournament, lost 65 guys over the course of his first offseason. By all rights they should be abominable. Instead they are merely very bad and unlucky.

The good-ish bit of the Illinois offense is the backcourt, which features two four-star recruits, one a sophomore who was ranked around 100th (Trent Frazier) and the other a near five-star freshman (Ayo Dosunmu) Frazier is a point guard; Dosunmu is a bouncy NBA-sized combo guard. You'd have a hard time separating them just by looking at their stats tempo-free stats but box-score breakdowns do paint a picture.

Frazier takes a bunch of off the dribble threes and when he ventures inside the line it's usually for a meh midrange jumper, usually because there aren't many alternatives.

He's a 40% shooter from three on high volume with a lot of unassisted makes. He's the point guard version of Northwestern's Ryan Taylor, a good shooter in tough situations. That's worth it from three; not so much from two.

Dosunmu is a slasher who has no midrange game and forces up a lot of contested shots at the rim, where he converts at a meh 59% percent. He also hits 40% from three. This is major progress for Dosunmu, who had to rebuild his shot last year:

"You don't often see an overhaul like that going into a freshman year," Mike Schmitz of ESPN's Draft Express said of Dosunmu.

"It seems he's really changed his shot, that's really the biggest thing with him. He used to have such a low release. I think he's still working through that, in-game, from a release standpoint. But from an NBA perspective, he has the tools. I think it's just continuing to slow down and being a point guard."

Hitting 40% from three with a rebuilt jumper is an accomplishment, but once he has to put it on the deck and can't get to the rim he's not comfortable enough with the new shot to be efficient with it. Dosunmu loses a ton of efficiency in the halfcourt. This highlight video of his performance against Northwestern is a ton of good transition takes and not much else:

His eFG drops ten points in the halfcourt.

The final guy in the backcourt is 6'5" wing Aaron Jordan, who's shooting 43% on ~160 threes over the past two years. He's not quite a prototypical Just A Shooter but he's close, and at 33% from two on the season he probably should be Just A Shooter.

Illinois lacks size at the 4 and 5. Freshman Giorgi "Copy And Paste" Bezhanishvili is, inevitably, from the Georgia that's in a frozen conflict with Russia. He was virtually unranked by recruiting sites, as many international players are. He's exceeded modest expectations by shooting 59%  from two on solid usage, but he's got a lot of holes in his game.

He is a modest-at-best athlete who provides almost no rim protection and has a problematic DREB rate—sometimes it's okay for bigs to have modest DREB numbers if the rest of the team is grabbing them, but Illinois is 291st in defensive rebounding and C&P is getting out-rebounded by Dosunmu, amongst several others. He's also committing a ton of fouls even in the frenetic context of Brad Underwood defense and is hitting 19% on 26 threes.

6'6" Kipper Nichols is the starter at the four. Nichols has blown up against Michigan twice in his career, frustrating yours truly…

…after a 17-points-on 13-shot-equivalents, 145-ORTG game last year. When not playing Michigan he was—uh---actually pretty excellent last year? He shot 48/38 on 24% usage, had excellent rebound rates on both ends for a 6'6" guy, and got to the line a fair amount where he shot 86%. Why was this guy playing less than 20 MPG for a bad team?

Nichols is stuck at 56% of Illinois minutes this year but that's far more explicable. Nichols is worse at everything this year except hitting twos. He's fouling more, going to the line less, rebounding less, and his usage has slipped to 19% while his ORTG plunges 15 points. Maybe he has a family of bats nesting on his head and doesn't want to disturb them unduly.

Illinois goes to their bench with frequency because they foul their buns off. G Da'Monte Williams is their sixth man; he's near-invisible on offense (11% usage) and only takes the most obvious opportunities. Even so he's at 36/30 shooting. He gets 20+ minutes a game. PG Andres Feliz isn't far behind; he's got a 20 assist rate but a 23 TO rate and isn't shooting well enough to make it up.

When C&P is out Illinois turns to seven-footers with ham for hands. Adonis De La Rosa, a Kent State grad transfer, is shooting 38% from two and fouling at a rate that would see him foul out twice if he played 40 minutes and the refs thought he was a sweetheart who deserved a second chance. Senegalese freshman Samba Kane is currently Large Man Drafted Into Basketball Against His Will. 

Also there's a guy name Alan Griffin with a 35 TO rate.


Illinois isn't good but they are entertaining. Underwood imported his frenetic high-tempo style from Oklahoma State, and while the results are not good they are certainly distinctive. Mostly on defense:

  • Illinois is near dead-last in FT rate allowed (344th). They are 31st in defensive tempo—they push so much that it's either a turnover or a bucket.
  • Illinois is 8th at forcing turnovers and pretty good at forcing steals.
  • They're very bad at 2PT% but decent at preventing threes; they suck at clearing their own boards, probably because their tendency to go for turnovers gets them out of box-out position.

This is the thing Underwood has done for the duration of his still-brief career as a head coach. His Stephen F Austin teams were 7th, 5th, and 1st in defensive TO rate. That Oklahoma State team he coached was the only year in his six-year tenure as a HC in which they finished outside the top 10, and they were still 55th. Whether or not a frenetic press still works at a major college level in 2018 is an open question.

Underwood's offenses at SFA were almost Beilein-slow; he was pretty fast in his sole year at Oklahoma State and is sort of fast this year at Illinois. This may be an effort to work around his team's limitations. Their transition eFG of 55% is pretty bad but when the alternative is 47% in the halfcourt, well… yeah.

Illinois is bad at all offensive activities except offensive rebounds and shooting threes, where they're about average.


Free throws. Michigan's going to get a ton and, well, you know. Charles Matthews has gotten up to acceptable-ish. Teske and Simpson have not.

Beilein ball control vs Underwood freneticism. Michigan struggled with Illinois's in your face style for most of a half last year. With 14 minutes gone they'd scored 13 points. Illinois was able to force Michigan into 15 turnovers for the game. Michigan subsequently blew up for a 48 point second half.

That first half was unusual for Michigan, which has shown pressure defenses their intestines in the Beilein era. This Illinois D isn't good, exactly, but they're better than last year and could pose some similar problems. Hopefully Michigan's experience last year will help them turn the dial to eviscerate faster.

Beware the Kipper Nichols. Avast!

Hammer the rim. Illinois has no shotblocking and extends their pressure super far so there should be driving lanes. Michigan should be attacking the rim instead of taking midrange jumpers.


Michigan by 10.



January 10th, 2019 at 1:21 PM ^

I feel that this game will be another in the vein of the mid-Dec games - lackluster in terms of intensity and focus.  It will look like M's defense has taken a step back, but they'll open a comfortable ~10 point lead by halftime.  The second half will see a ballooning of the lead to 15-20, and a final score showing a ~12-15 pt win.  Fans will worry about the defense having lost some step and will woe a slightly below average game from beyond the arc.

This will be a sleep-walking affair...


January 10th, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

Can someone explain the "Where" in the OP? I live in Champaign and started an alumni club here a couple years ago. There was minimal participation, so I let it go away.


January 10th, 2019 at 2:10 PM ^

Brian generally does not put the name of the venue if it has a corporate name. Illinois plays at the State Farm Center so it gets that treatment.

(If it were still called Assembly Hall I'd imagine he would put the correct name as he appropriately labeled Welsh-Ryan Arena in the Northwestern preview.)


January 10th, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

I realize there is an ebb and flow to every basketball program and seasons are always different, but man, ever since the road loss to Illinois and Maverick Morgan...the basketball program has just completely changed.  I mean it was good before then, then lulled, and now it's back to being dominant, but by a completely different formula.  Depending on how Beilein finishes his career at Michigan, that may mark a huge turning point in the program.


January 10th, 2019 at 1:41 PM ^

SIBMIHHAT.  ILL was 0-11 from 3 last game.  if they make just one, they beat IU.  i would put matthews on the frosh guard (who is playing much better now than when i saw him against osu here in chi).  put poole on jordan.  simpson on frazier.  that should shut down their guards and kill their offense.

they also make a lot of dumb fouls.  if either of their guards gets in foul trouble, this will be a blowout.

yossarians tree

January 10th, 2019 at 2:11 PM ^

This game will be a rock fight in wet cement at minimal gravity.

DVR it and I think I'll watch Game of Thrones. Be jealous of me I am renting past seasons from my local library and am only on Season 1 episode 8.


January 10th, 2019 at 2:50 PM ^

Can we see a Lineup Card for Michigan - or get a link to one if it already exists somewhere? Thanks and my apologizes if it was posted in an obvious spot and I missed it.