Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From the Central Michigan Victory

Illinois Basketball

Dec 3, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard JeQuan Lewis (1) dribbles the ball against Illinois Fighting Illini guard Tracy Abrams (13) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team moved to 8-3 on the season with a win over the Central Michigan Chippewas last night.

This game was a must win and the Illini showed up on both sides of the court.

Here are my three observations from the Victory over Central Michigan.

Tracy Abrams, Welcome Back

This season has been a roller coaster for the Illinois basketball team.  They are rising on the roller coaster right now after spending a week at the bottom.

There are a few reasons why Illinois hit a rough patch there in the middle of their non-conference schedule.

One reason was because they played some tough competition.  Winthrop was really their only bad loss and then they fell to No. 19 West Virginia and No. 25 Florida State.

Another reason for the downturn in their season was because the Illini were missing another source of scoring.

Malcolm Hill and Leron Black have been the go-to scorers for Illinois so far this season.   They average 18.9 points per game and 14.4 PPG, respectively.

But, last night against Central Michigan, Illinois might have found another source of scoring that could put them over the top.

Tracy Abrams led the game in scoring with 31 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field.  He was also 7-of-8 from the three-point line as well.

This production is not expected from Abrams because he is supposed to be the main ball distributor, but it is welcomed.

In the previous five games, Abrams only averaged 8.4 PPG.  He was more comfortable shooting the ball against Central Michigan and it was refreshing to see.

I hope Abrams can continue to keep up this production because if Illinois has three scorers that can put up 15 points a night then I think they will make the NCAA Tournament.

Nov 25, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard CJ Walker (2) shoots the ball as Illinois Fighting Illini center Mike Thorne Jr. (33) defends during the second half of the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center. Florida State won, 72-61. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Defense Improved

Now, I know this game was against Central Michigan.  They aren’t exactly a top 25 program, but heading into this contest there was some worry about stopping the Chippewa’s offensive attack.

There hasn’t been one game this season where leading scorer Marcus Keene has scored under 23 points.

While the Illini still gave up 25 points against Keene, those weren’t efficient points.

Keene had his worst game of the season as he only shot 9-of-23 from the field which is 39.1-percent.  He was also only 3-of-9 from the three-point line.

Holding Keene to this bad shooting night was huge for the Illini as they went on to win the game by 19 points.

Illinois also held Central Michigan to 25-of-68 shooting for the night, which is 36.8-percent.  They were also only 34.2-percent from the three-point line as well.

The Illini came into the game against Central Michigan clearly with a game plan of collapsing down on Keene and it worked.

Keene had to either chuck the ball up or rely on his supporting cast for points.

Illinois came out of this game giving up 73 points, but I think it was one of their better defensive performances of the season.

Jan 3, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jaylon Tate (1) talks with head coach John Groce in the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena. Ohio State won the game 75-73. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Missing Person’s Report

The Illinois basketball team has now won four games in a row with two of these games being extremely important, in North Carolina State and VCU.

Beating Central Michigan last night will help the record but there was no reason to lose it and you have to take this win with a grain of salt.

A win is a win, but I am still afraid if John Groce continues his playing of Jaylon Tate for that many minutes it will bite the Illini against good teams.

Last night, Tate played 20 minutes and Abrams played 26 minutes.

I am okay with Abrams seeing that many minutes because he proved why he deserves to be the No. 1 point guard now.

But, I am still confused why Tate is seeing 20 minutes and freshman Te’Jon Lucas didn’t even get a chance to play against the Chippewas.

In the last six games, Tate is averaging 1.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.8 APG and 1.8 TPG.  There is no reason that our backup point guard shouldn’t be able to put up better numbers than this.

If Groce continues to play Tate over Lucas I think it will kill us in the Big Ten season.

Lucas needs to get more playing time so he is ready for Big Ten basketball.  But, that isn’t happening and Groce will rely on Tate to give us the stats above.

I hope I am dead wrong on this but look at the previous three seasons.  Why continue to repeat what has gone wrong in the past?

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