Illinois has had its shares of ups and downs this season. Though most things haven't necessarily gone in the right direction for the orange and blue, this team has shown its fair share of promise. Beneath the difficult season that Illinois is currently enduring, the redshirt freshman Michael Finke, for one, has been a major bright spot. His contributions on the court embody the work of an upperclassmen; the Champaign native has been playing like a veteran during his first season as an active player on the Fighting Illini roster.
Michael Finke is averaging 9.4 points per game this season and has become an integral part of Illinois' lineup. While he's not a scoring machine by any means, Finke does all the little things that begin to add up for the Illini. He can score inside, shoot the three, rebound, and play defense at a high level. He just had a career-high 16 rebounds against Minnesota. In addition, he's been great for Illinois in terms of hustle plays and effort on the court. He's what college basketball fans like to call "Illinois' glue-guy." Someone who puts all of the pieces together and solidifies the team: that's who Michael Finke is becoming.
His poise on the court is very impressive considering the fact that he's just a freshman. In the face of injuries this season, Finke has been forced to step-up and become a "go-to-guy" during his freshman campaign. He's been great in the spotlight. Finke has been a stellar offensive weapon that Illinois' been utilizing to exploit defenses. Finke's the perfect Wisconsin-style big man: a tall, interior player that can step out and shoot the three. In doing so, Finke forces his defenders away from the paint where he can shoot right over them. The freshman is shooting 39.7% from long range this season. When Michael Finke decides to play the post, he's starting to develop the moves and interior game that will help him climb the ladder moving forward. Michael Finke is developing into a complete player.
The great news for Illinois is that Michael Finke is only a freshman and has so much more potential moving forward. He reminds me a lot of former Illinois graduate-transfer Jon Ekey. Both Finke and Ekey are/were knock down jump shooters that also know how to play the post and rebound. While Jon Ekey was only around for one year, he provided tremendous upside in a rebuilding year for John Groce. Michael Finke is going to be around a little while longer. If Groce really looks to develop his game, he can turn Finke into the next Big Ten superstar. That being said, there's definitely room for improvement with his interior game, and there's always room to improve on defense. If Michael Finke goes and puts on a bunch of muscle weight over the summer, he could come back as one of the strongest, most difficult-to-defend forwards in the Big Ten. Michael Finke has been raising eyebrows during his freshman campaign; the sky's the limit for him moving forward.