Death From Above: Illinois

Submitted by Brian on February 11th, 2012 at 8:14 PM

mbcornell2011-12-375[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Illinois at Michigan
WHERE Crisler ArenaCenter,
Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
LINE M –5 (Kenpom)


Illinois is the only Big Ten opponent Michigan hasn't faced yet this year. They're a weird team, blessed with two A-level stars but capable of scoring droughts spanning a quarter of the game.

The main main is junior guard Brandon Paul. He may technically be the two-guard but in practice he is the man with the ball in his hands most of the time. Paul's usage is prodiguous but he's not great at anything in particular. His assist rate is high; so is his TO rate. His shooting efficiency is mediocre both from three (34%) and two (43%). He gets to the line a lot, I guess, and he is a big component of Illinois's defensive rebounding. He's a better version of Manny Harris.

The second A-level star is sophomore center Meyers Leonard, who is shooting 61% from two, rebounding furiously, and blocking many, many shots. He does a good job of staying on the floor and has above-average (but not amazingly so) usage. He's quality, and the prospect of Leonard matching up against Michigan players a half-foot shorter and no more athletic is daunting.

Illinois's third banana is guard DJ Richardson.  Richardson is perimeter-oriented guard hitting 39% from three and 44% from two; he does not get to the line or turn the ball over much.

After those three there's a rotation with no player seeing more than 55% of available minutes. They are:

  • Backup C Nnanna Egwu. Yeah. "Nnanna." Low usage turnover machine who doesn't even rebound well. If Leonard gets into foul trouble Illinois is toast—they were close against the Hoosiers until Leonard picked up two quick fouls, one for having his jaw in the way of Cody Zeller's elbow, the other a weak moving screen call. Leonard went to the bench and Illinois folded immediately.
  • Senior starting G Sam Maniscalco. Grad-year transfer from Bradley. Decent usage but not a threat from deep (27%). Efficient from inside two and at the line.
  • Sophomore wing Joseph Bertrand. Wing slasher; has no range (just 5 three attempts on the year) but hitting 58% on twos. Doesn't get to the line.
  • Nominal starting G Tracy Abrams. Low usage turnover machine. Awful offensive player. Plays half of available minutes and does nothing at all well statistically. Must be a good defender or something.
  • Junior PF Tyler Griffey. Good offensive rebounder, will shot threes, big TO rate.

Basically any shot not from the top three guys or Bertrand is a good shot for Michigan. If Leonard gets into foul trouble Michigan may be able to run away and hide—his backup is that bad.

As a team, Illinois does not shoot well from three. The only guy you should wince at leaving open on the perimeter is Richardson. Paul is meh; threes from everyone else are good for Michigan no matter how open they are.


Brandon Paul temporarily evolved into a higher life form on January 10th en route to like a billion points in Illinois's dramatic upset of Ohio State. At that point the Illini were 15-3 and cruising. They've lost five of six since. Because basketball makes no sense the lone win was a one-point decision over Michigan State in a totally horrendous game.

For all the harrumphing about Michigan's road struggles, Illinois's only road win against a top-100 Kenpom opponent was by one point at Northwestern.

Illinois's only nonconference win of note was a home game against Gonzaga. They also beat Maryland. They lost badly to UNLV and narrowly to Missouri.


Conference four factors:

Factor Offense (Rk) Defense (Rk) Avg
Effective FG%: 51.1 5 49.7 5 49
Turnover %: 22.2 11 19.4 4 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 8 31.0 6 32.5
FTA/FGA: 33.9 8 39.1 9 36.5

Illinois is just not an efficient team except when they get off twos.

Illinois is ninth in both shooting and defending the three, second at shooting twos, and block a lot of shots. They don't give up a lot of threes, something that may be more important than the actual percentage opponents shoot.


Survive Meyers Leonard. It would be immensely helpful if Leonard got in foul trouble; Illinois has no backup, basically. If that doesn't happen I'm guessing we see some of the 2-3 and 1-2-2 zones Michigan has deployed through the year. We might even see the endangered 1-3-1; Illinois is not a smooth offensive team and could dribble themselves into a bunch of trouble.

Another Leonard mitigation possibility: more McLimans. His size could prevent Leonard from getting as many touches as he would otherwise, and five fouls are five fouls.

Hope Stu can handle Paul. Brandon Paul could explode and not leave Michigan much chance to do anything about it. That has not been the case for much of the Big Ten season, however. Paul can get a shot any time he wants but they don't go down regularly enough for him to be efficient unless he's getting to the basket with regularity. Keep him shooting jumpers… and hope he doesn't go unconscious a la Ohio State.

Generic Hardaway concern. Get him going to the basket off screens and see what happens. Please for the love of god make some threes. Etc.

Crash the boards a bit more than usual. A shotblocker like Leonard will often leave his feet, allowing a weakside rebounder an opportunity to clean up shots that get past outstretched arms. Michigan has all but abdicated offensive rebounding; maybe they should try to get some cheap buckets that way.

Win the bench. Illinois has some dudes that aren't very good; Michigan is basically six or seven deep right now, and the guys off the bench aren't contributing much. If M can get some quality minutes from Vogrich and Smotrycz when members of the Illini Big Three are on the bench it'll help.


Michigan by five.



February 11th, 2012 at 9:55 PM ^

That big SOB has been giving me nightmares since Wednesday night.  I personally don't think he's that "great" of a player, he is good and is a talent, but in my narrow-visioned eyes he's a matchup night terror for Michigan.  Eh, who knows maybe Michigan limit him and keep him at bay a la Zeller in the Indiana game a week and a half ago.  He plays very emotional as well and maybe the Michigan grit can use that against him.  But I can just see the rebounding margin being outrageous tomorrow and that keeping Illinois within striking range of knocking our guys off @ home.  Also, Michigan settling for outside shooting all day because we won't get any penetration (whether it's warranted staying away from the hoop beacuse of Meyers presence or Michigan simply hasn't the cajones to go at him I don't know, but I can SEE it happening!).  I hope Mr. Hardaway doesn't shy away from him, using that as an excuse to launch 3-ball after 3-ball/clank after clank.

Pessimism aside, Michigan should beat this Illini team, I think.  Illinois isn't sitting on a tourney bid for no reason though, and this matchup I don't particulary like.  Go Blue; go grab #19 in front of a home crowd.


February 11th, 2012 at 11:38 PM ^

Whoa....a preview post that's on time? Wow, that's shocking



Also, I think we keep the Home Win streak alive with a solid win, not a blowout, but not a squeker either