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‘BTPowerhouse 25’ - No. 1 Kofi Cockburn

BTPowerhouse’s staff counts down the best players in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-’22 season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Loyola-Chicago at Illinois IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

In the months leading up to the 2021-’22 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a series called the ‘BTPowerhouse 25,’ which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.

Today’s edition will take a brief look at Kofi Cockburn of the Illinois Fighting Illini, who came in at No. 1 in the rankings. Illinois came up short last year in their hunt for a Big Ten title and a deep postseason run, so they’re hoping for a better result this time around.

‘BTPowerhouse 25’ - No. 1 Kofi Cockburn:

  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Career Totals: 62 games, 1687 minutes, 961 points, 565 rebounds, 25 assists, 27 steals
  • 2020-’21 Averages: 27.0 MPG, 17.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.3 SPG
  • Positional Role: Center

The Illini came up short in the race for Big Ten champs and then got bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Loyola (Chicago). They lost star guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn ended up entering the transfer portal. Cockburn was linked to Kentucky, a place a number of people thought he would end up at. Ultimately Kentucky wasn’t interested in the seven footer and Cockburn likely realized Illinois was the best spot for him to try to work on getting to the NBA next year. Now the question is if Illinois can reach the success they envisioned last year.

Player Strengths

When it comes to player strengths the obvious area of expertise for Cockburn is down low. In his sophomore season Kofi averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. The seven foot center converted on 65.4% of his two pointers, consistently converting whenever Illinois fed him inside. He was an absolute force inside on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, easily being one of the leagues best big men in 2020-21.

Areas for Improvement

As much as Cockburn took care of business inside he doesn’t excel much away from the basket. That’s evident pretty much everywhere else on his stat line. In a game that is seeing more and more bigs being able to shot the ball from outside, Cockburn did not shoot a single three pointer last year. He also struggled from the line, making only 55.3% of his free throws and being a liability from the line, especially as he routinely found himself at the charity stripe. Cockburn also isn’t much of a passer, either, picking up a whopping FIVE assists last year over 837 minutes, or one assist per every 167.4 minutes (0.2 assists per game).

These limitations are more or less what will keep Cockburn from probably getting a legitimate shot at the next level. Luckily for Illini fans, though, Illinois is surrounding Cockburn with enough talent on the court that he should just have to worry about holding his own near the rim.

Player Projection

The physical nature of Cockburn down low makes him an immediate weapon for the Illini whenever he gets the ball inside. He can overpower most opposing centers in the nation, helps the Illini clean up on the glass and will score plenty of points. He did that pretty much all of last season and was a solid anchor for an Illini team that played great pretty much all season.

The problem with Cockburn, though, is his success is limited to being near the rim. He can’t shoot from outside or convert when he gets to the line. He doesn’t pass the ball and picks up an assist once in a blue moon. And his plodding nature can trip him up against speedier bigs that have the ability to shoot from outside.

Cockburn is really, really good at what he does well. As for everything else? The Illini will hope to make up for it with their surrounding talent on the court. They have enough skilled players that they should be able to mask the flaws in Cockburn’s game, though it does raise the question of just how far he can lead the Illini. Regardless of his struggles away from the key, Cockburn is going to light up the stat books and be one of the most dominating centers at the rim. If he can develop elsewhere on the court the Illini will be in business this winter.

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‘BTPowerhouse 25’ Rankings: