Hoops Preview: Illinois Comment Count

Ace January 5th, 2018 at 4:01 PM


WHAT #32 Michigan (13-3, 2-1 B1G)
vs #89 Illinois (10-6, 0-3)
WHERE Crisler Center
Ann Arbor, Michigan
WHEN Noon ET, Saturday
LINE Michigan -10 (KenPom)
M -9.4 (Torvik)
M -9.5 (Vegas)
PBP: Brandon Gaudin
Analyst: Jon Crispin

Right: The last time. [Paul Sherman]


Michigan continues to be in a plum spot to make a run at the #3 seed in the conference. They're at #32 on KenPom, #27 on Torvik, and #40 in the RPI (up from 42 last week); Torvik's tourneycast has the Wolverines as a nine-seed after they were out of the field not long ago.

The rotation is getting close to set now that we're into the new year, but how the pieces are configured is still in question. Zavier Simpson looks like he should wrest the starting job away from Eli Brooks; he opened the second half against Iowa and has been a much more impactful player. Isaiah Livers, meanwhile, had a breakout game against the Hawkeyes; you're probably sick of me saying he should be in the starting lineup over Duncan Robinson, who's better served as a bench shooter paired with a strong defensive center (namely, Jon Teske). Those changes could happen soon.


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 1 Trent Frazier Fr. 6'1, 170 52 23 104 Kinda
After slow start, averaging 16 PPG over last six games.
G 20 Da'Monte Williams Fr. 6'3, 190 48 15 95 Yes
Decent slasher, only 5/25 on threes, turnover prone.
G 13 Mark Smith Fr. 6'4, 225 52 21 97 Probably
Only shooting well at FT line right now, but has scoring potential.
F 12 Leron Black Jr. 6'7, 230 61 24 113 No
Plays big. Strong post scorer and rebounder, has extended his range.
C 43 Michael Finke Jr. 6'10, 235 67 16 120 Kinda
Plays like a stretch four but has been much more efficient on twos.
G 24 Mark Alstork Sr. 6'5, 190 58 18 100 Yeah
Wright State transfer off to rough start, probable benching.
F 23 Aaron Jordan Jr. 6'5, 210 52 18 130 Not At All
Hitting 52% of threes, decent inside arc too. Should probably play more?
G 3 Te'Jon Lucas So. 6'1, 180 49 19 93 Very
Turnover-prone PG with no range quickly losing role to Frazier.

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


Let's start with what's gone well for Illinois since last season's Maverick Trilogy. They fired head coach John Groce, who'd proven unable to put together a decent offense, and replaced him with Brad Underwood, the architect of the terrifying Oklahoma State squad Michigan narrowly defeated in the first round on the tourney. That should eventually get the program headed in the right direction.

Otherwise, it's been rough. Underwood's team is off to a 10-6 start and is winless in three Big Ten games. They're 1-6 against top-100 opponents and 0-4 on the road. Underwood said change is coming after Wednesday's loss at Minnesota, in which Illinois fell behind by 20 early and couldn't claw their way back despite a solid push by the reserves:

“We’re not going to stick with the same group,” Underwood said. “That’s why I changed it at halftime. We’ve got to continue to grow.”

The lineup card above is an educated guess. It's a good bet freshman point guard Trent Frazier will take over the starting job from sophomore Te'Jon Lucas. Frazier has been on a six-game run averaging 16 points while Lucas has been ineffective; it's been a bit of a Brooks-Simpson situations. Frazier has been mostly shoot-first and more effective as a slasher than outside shooter this season, but he canned 3-of-6 threes against the Gophers and dished out six assists. He's talented and improving quickly.

The rest of the backcourt is a mess. Grad transfer Mark Alstork is posting 42/23/84 (2P%/3P%/FT%) shooting splits and drew Underwood's ire by taking a couple needless fouls late against the Gophers. He's likely headed to the bench, as his replacement at least has youth as an excuse. Freshman Da'Monte Williams, who stepped in for Alstork, has been decently effective going to the rim but only hit 5-of-25 threes. Fellow freshman Mark Smith has struggled with efficienty both inside and outside the arc, especially against decent competition. Lucas isn't a threat to shoot and he's got a big man's turnover rate; his minutes are fading fast.

The Illini's strength is in the frontcourt. Forward Leron Black is the top offensive option. He's taken his post game to a new level while also adding the range to knock down the occasional open three (7-for-17 this season). He's a bad matchup for Wagner/Robinson when Illinois has the ball. He may be stuck in mismatches on the other end, however, and he can be foul-prone. He's paired with center Michael Finke, a weird combination of stretch four and offensive rebounding threat who's been much better on the interior than the outside this season. Finke leaves most of the defensive rebounding to Black, who also moonlights as an undersized center. Backup forward Aaron Jordan has been easily the team's best shooter, making over half his threes, while last year's hero in the Illinois win over Michigan, Kipper Nichols, provides strong rebounding and some three-point range.


Small sample size caveats apply.

Four Factors explanation

This is not exactly last year's Oklahoma State team offensively. Illinois is scoring just 0.96 points per possession in Big Ten play, worse than every team save Rutgers. They're not a good outside shooting team, their plus offensive rebounding has disappeared in conference play, and they cough up the rock on a fifth of their possessions.

The defense tries to help out the offense by extending pressure and going all-out for turnovers. In their three Big Ten games, they're first in turnover rate and 11th or worse in the other three factors. They completely lack rim protection. This is the type of defense Beilein offenses tend to douse in gasoline and calmly walk away while flicking a lit match over their shoulder.


Play under control. Illinois relies very heavily on forcing turnovers to prop up an otherwise bad defense. Michigan is 12th in the country in turnover rate. Advantage: Michigan.

Put Black in tough situations. Leron Black is the Illini's most reliable scoring threat and a guy who could give Michigan some trouble, especially when he's at the four. He's not a great defender, however, and he can get in foul trouble, especially when pulled away from the rim. Michigan has the players, whether Black is at the four or five, to attack him as either the on-ball defender or roll man and see if they can force him to the bench.

Hit your dang free throws. In lieu of blocking shots, Illinois hacks a lot. Michigan should have a lot of success attacking the basket, but unfortunately a lot of their best threats around the rim—Charles Matthews, Moe Wagner, Jon Teske—have been their poorest shooters at the line. Those guys don't have to be perfect in this game, but if this ends up tighter than expected, I won't be surprised if it's because Michigan had a rough day at the charity stripe.


Michigan by 10.

Illinois is flat-out not very good and still in the tinkering stage, they set up as the type of opponent Beilein teams tend to scorch, and it's a home game. It'd take some weird stuff to lose this one. KenPom sets the win probability at 83%.


UMHoops preview. Big Tennnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.



January 5th, 2018 at 9:01 PM ^

Y'all can keep pushing for Simpson over Brooks. But I will keep saying that Brooks is going to be very good and it is critical to this team that he continues to be brought along-and not on the bench. Simpson has certainly picked up his play and deserves significant time. But Brooks really knows how to play this game...beyond his years...do not discourage him.


January 6th, 2018 at 5:03 PM ^

It simply is not in my DNA to let ignorance stand unaddressed. Sir, I know this game inside out, backwards and forward...and point guard play in particular. This team will go further with Brooks than with Simpson. Beilein had better stick with Brooks or they will never approach  their potential.  There is only one Trae Young-neither on them are...they don't need to be. Otherwise, you don't know a damn thing you are talking about here.