Over the last 14 seasons, Illinois has managed to eclipse the century mark just two times. This includes four teams that won big ten championships. Teams made up of some of the Illini all time greats. Guys like Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Brian Cook, Frank Williams and many others. These are teams that were led by NBA talent, and won a lot of games. But even with high caliber players, they were only able to score 100 points two times. So far this season Illinois has already done it twice, doing so in back to back games this week against Coppin State and Austin Peay.
In doing so, Illinois has pushed there average points per game to 100.3, which is second in the country. The team is shooting a blistering, 52.8% from FG range, 50% from three and 80.3 from the charity stripe. In comparison against similar talent Illinois scored 76.6 points per game during the first three games last year, while shooting 42.8% from FG, 27.03 from three and 70.5% from the free throw line. Overall last season Illinois scored 64.2 points per game which was more than 10 points less than the scored during the early season against bad teams. If the same holds true this year and the drop off is similar, Illinois would still be scoring 90 points per game which would have been the best in the country last year.
Will Illinois be able to keep up this type of offensive onslaught? At this point it is anybody's guess, but they now have the weapons necessary to hopefully not see a huge drop off in offensive production once the better teams come to town. Maybe the most telling thing about the production isn't as much the total points scored but more about who is scoring the points and at what efficiency.
Right now Illinois has five guys averaging over 10 points per game, and three more that average at least 8. The starters are averaging 18, 13.3, 8, 13 and 13.3. For those of you keeping track at home, that means that one of the guys Illinois has averaging double figures comes off the bench. And to make that fact even better, the guy off the bench averaging 10.7 points per game is a the freshman, Leron Black. You also have Kendrick Nunn averaging 9 off the bench. Overall, Illinois is getting 37.5 points from their bench each game. Which is one of the biggest reason why they are able to average 100 points. Most teams see a large drop off once their starters are mixed in with bench players. Illinois has a couple really good players in Tate, Nunn and Black coming off the bench, that allows them to keep their level of play very high.
The other thing Illinois does really well, first in the country well in fact, is offensive efficiency. Illinois currently ranks first out of 351 division one basketball teams with a 1.3 efficiency rating on offense. For those of you not as familiar with that stat, it is how many points the team scores per 100 possessions, and generally 1.2 is considered a very good team. One of the biggest contributors to great efficiency, is the ability to maximize every possession by shooting at a high percentage and not turning the ball over very often. Illinois is currently ranked 11th in the country for lowest number of turnovers, averaging 9.6 per game. This attentiveness with the ball, combined with the shooting percentages I mentioned above allow them to be very efficient with every possession.
Results from nonconference games need to be taken with a healthy dose skepticism. Coppin Sate is not Ohio State by any stretch of the imagination. Can Illinois keep up the same kind of high percentage shooting while playing in a hostile road environments such as the Kohl Center or the Assembly Hall? Will Bench players like Leron Black and Jaylon Tate turn back into pumpkins when the non conference clock strikes mid night? The only way we will find out if this team is really an offensive powerhouse, is for them to play better teams. The great thing about college basketball is that they might start out with easy games, but the games keep getting harder almost every week. This week Illinois will have to play either Memphis or Baylor on a neutral court and next week they have to play Miami on the road. But, the date that every Illinois fan should have circled is December 9th, when they play Villanova at the Garden. If Illinois can play great under the brightest of lights against a top 10 team, it will be time for the entire country to be on notice, that Illinois is back .