The Illini played their fourth game in seven days on Saturday night when they took on the Oregon Ducks in Portland’s Rose Garden, so it was not supposed to be this easy. The Illini had traveled to Chicago on a bus in a snow storm on Thursday evening after the Georgetown game to make the cross country flight out to the Pacific Northwest. One would have reasonably assumed the Illini would have been tired with the quick turnaround between Thursday night’s contest, and Saturday’s game, but that was not the case at all.
The Illini took the game to Oregon on both sides of the ball, and frustrated the Ducks all night long, holding them to just 35.1% shooting from the floor, forcing 13 turnovers, and outrebounding Oregon 45-29, including 13 offensive rebounds. When the Illini were on offense, Ernie Kent could not find a defense, man-to-man, a three-quarter court press that fell back into a 1-2-2 zone, or a more traditional 2-3 zone, that would slow down the Illini attack. The Illini had four players score in double figures, led by Dee Brown’s season-high 26 points.
Saturday night’s game was the first time this season that Dee Brown’s shot had been falling at a consistent pace. In the first half, at times it looked like Dee could not miss a shot, no matter if it was coming from behind the college three-point line, or the NBA three point line. On Saturday night, Dee was in the flow of the offense and was making moves with the basketball, and when he was shooting, he was squaring himself up to the basket and getting his feet set underneath him, instead of fading away. To go along with his torrid shooting performance 9-for-15 (5-of-8 from behind the three point line), Dee also ran the Illini offense handing out 7 assists with just 2 turnovers.
In just ten games, Brown has come along way as the guy that can run the offense, and create opportunities for his teammates in the half court. Sure, he is still more effective in the full court with the basketball, but now his vision has improved for quick, sharp passes to cutters, and setting up teammates for open shots. His improvement as a point guard, has also coincided with the emergence of Jamar Smith as an offensive threat, and Rich McBride’s continuing improvement on the perimeter. Dee seems to have more confidence in his teammates than he did early in the season, and as a result, the Illini offense is looking much better on the court than it has early in the season.
Offensive Efficiency: 121.85
Defensive Efficiency: 79.41
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 38.24%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 81.58%
The Illini had two players come off the bench and score in double figures against the Ducks, Jamar Smith and Marcus Arnold. Bruce Weber has relied on Smith and Arnold more in the recent games, and both players have responded with the increased playing time and responsibilities. When in the game, Weber has started to use Smith as the Illini’s main on the ball defender, allowing Dee Brown to rest a tiny bit on the defensive side of the ball, by not having to chase the primary ball handler up and down the floor. The placing of Smith on the ball also has another benefit, it removes the necessity of him to play great off the ball defense, something the freshman still struggles with at this point in his career. Now, Smith is able to use his length to disrupt the offense’s entry passes into the wing and the post.
Arnold has become the first Illini big man off the bench, and he has responded to the extra playing time with solid play on both sides of the floor. Defensively, Arnold is very good at using his body to establish position in the post, which in turn leads him to be in great defensive rebounding position. On the offensive side of the court, Arnold understands the spacing needed in the Illini offense, and has been able to generate scoring opportunities for himself within the offensive flow. Against Oregon, Arnold was 5-for-10 from the floor, for his 11 points.
BRUMBY’S RANDOM THOUGHTS
- Knowing the Illini were on the road, at least a hostile neutral environment, it was weird to see them wearing their white jerseys. Heck, even the great production from FOX Sports gave the Illini’s first basket to Oregon because the Illini were wearing the home whites, and Oregon was the home team on the scoreboard. Why didn’t Oregon wear their home whites, or at least the ugly yellow alternate jerseys they have instead of their road greens?
- For all the good the Illini offense did on Saturday night, there is still a lack of ball movement, especially compared to last season. When the outside shots are going in for the Illini, like they were Saturday, the offense looks like it is hitting on all cylinders, but when shots are not going in, the offense is stagnant. The most disappointing stat from Saturday night was the Illini only had 14 assists on 34 made baskets, and that shows the Illini are still not running the offense as smoothly as they can be. (For the season Illinois has 153 assists on 269 made baskets).
- Brian Randle is becoming the defensive stopper that the Illini need on the wing. He slowed down Oregon’s Malik Hairston holding him to just 12 points, and causing him to commit 4 turnovers, while only committing 2 fouls. If Randle can continue to stay out of foul trouble like he was able to guarding Hairston, he will be the Illini’s defensive stopper, but that is a big if.