Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From the IUPUI Victory

Illinois Basketball

Mar 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Leron Black (12) battles for a rebound with Michigan Wolverines guard/forward Kameron Chatman (3) during the second half in the second round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team did not play well last night but still came away with an 85-77 victory over IUPUI.

This game moved the Illini to 7-3 on the season and one step closer to the NCAA Tournament.

Here are three observations from the IUPUI victory.

Hill and Black are the Leaders

To start this season all Illinois fans knew that Malcolm Hill was going to be the No. 1 player for the Illini.

Hill has shown us that he can play well and be a dominate scorer and all-around individual on the basketball court.

But, what we didn’t know is where Hill’s help would come from.  There were multiple candidates who could have stepped up this season.

Jalen Coleman-Lands still hasn’t found his stride from the three-point arc.  That will come eventually but he needs to take better shots.

Tracy Abrams is still shaking off the rust from the two-year layoff.  He is forming into a go-to scorer for the Illini.

The one player who has emerged to help Hill out has been Leron Black.

Black really dominated in the game against IUPUI.  He fell back into a nasty habit of reckless fouls but besides for that he was really good last night.

When the final buzzer rang out, Black ended up with 16 points and 9 rebounds.  This went along with Hill’s 32 points and 4 rebounds.

These two players are going to have to carry this team this season unless others start scoring.

Just in the last four games alone, Black and Hill have combined for 51-percent of Illinois’ point production.

There needs to be at least one more source of points from someone.  This is a must if the Illini want to continue winning and eventually get to the postseason.

Illinois Basketball

Feb 3, 2016; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard D.J. Williams (0) dribbles the ball in the first half at Louis Brown Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

DJ Williams Issue Could Be Resolved

Coming into the game against IUPUI one of the big subjects being talked about in the Illinois fan community is why DJ Williams wasn’t seeing playing time.

This has been discussed and argued about a number of times but last night I think John Groce put it all to bed as he played Williams for 8 minutes.

Now, I know 8 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was a start and it could be the beginning of reintegrating Williams back into the game plan more often.

The reasoning for not playing Williams in two out of the last three games prior to the IUPUI victory is unclear and public speculation isn’t needed.

But, I think Groce is trying to find ways to use Williams that can be effective to the team and to his game.

I also found it interesting that Williams was used with Hill and Black both on the floor last night.  He subbed in for Coleman-Lands and the Illini went with a bigger lineup.

I didn’t keep stats on that span of time, but it had me intrigued to see Groce changing things up and trying to find a spot for Williams.

Hopefully, Williams continues to see playing time because he was effective.  He scored 5 points in the 8 minutes on the court.

Nov 25, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce talks to a referee during the first half of his game against the Florida State Seminoles in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Groce Needs to Cool it on the Substitutions

I love the depth of the Illinois basketball team.  They played 11 guys last night and that is only going to benefit the team down the stretch when the opponent is tired.

But, the way the substitutions are made confuses me greatly.

I am going to name a few instances that come to mind, but I am sure you can pinpoint more throughout the game.

The first instance was with the point guard situation.

The No. 2 point guard for the Illini last night was Te’Jon Lucas.  That made me happy because I think he is clearly the backup point guard.

But, Groce went with a three point guard rotation that didn’t let the backup get into a grove with the players around him.

No matter which point guard you choose as your backup, you have to let him play more than 3 minutes at a time.  It seemed like he would sub in Lucas and then he would take him out for Tate soon after.

Groce needs to let players get into their groove and this will help with communication and defense.

The other instance that keeps coming to mind is toward the end of the game.

Mike Thorne Jr. had a great, physical, play inside the paint and scored.  He also got to shoot a free throw because he was fouled.

This happened when the game was tied 68-68, so after the bucket and the made free throw the score read 71-68.

But, as soon as Thorne made the free throw, he was subbed out of the game for Maverick Morgan.

Now, I know that there are substitutions done in games because one player is better on defense, but this is not the case.

Morgan came in and didn’t do great at the other end and then was subbed out for Thorne after that possession.

The substitution patterns for Groce just do not make sense.  I hope that down the road this doesn’t bite us, but it has in the past.

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