BSB: Pre-Conference Lineups Best & Worst

The conference season starts with a bang for the Illini on Thursday evening against the Michigan State Spartans, but the next two editions of the Box Score Breakdown is going to look back on the non-conference schedule to summarize the Illini's undefeated run through their first fourteen games of the season. In this edition of the Box Score Breakdown, IlliniBoard.com will look at the Illini's five-man rotations over the course of the first fourteen games of the season.

Before delving into the breakdowns of the five-man units, I would like to point out two things: (1) You can view many of the Box Score Breakdowns for the individual games if you go back in the IlliniBoard.com Top Story archives and (2) these numbers do not include the numbers from the Xavier, Rutgers, and Wichita State games as these games did not have play by play data with substitutions available. (IlliniBoard.com is planning on adding this information in the future, but we have yet to go back and watch either of these three games again)

ILLINOIS' TOP FIVE FIVE-MAN UNITS
These five groups have been the most consistent performers for the Illini during the pre-conference schedule. Not surprisingly, all five groups consist of different combinations of the same seven players: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, James Augustine, Jamar Smith, and Marcus Arnold.

After some initial fluctuation in his rotation earlier this season, Bruce Weber has settled into a consistent rotation. Jamar Smith and Marcus Arnold are the first people off the bench, and the other five players are the Illini starters. The numbers show why Weber has relied most heavily on these seven players, they have been successful. But, which of these five lineups has proven to be the most effective when on the court?

1: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, James Augustine
Differential: +56
Total Time on Court: 84.83 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: +26.40

2: Dee Brown, Jamar Smith, Rich McBride, Marcus Arnold, James Augustine
Differential: +38
Total Time on Court: 33.43 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: +45.46

3: Dee Brown, Jamar Smith, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, James Augustine
Differential: +26
Total Time on Court: 20.27 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: +51.32

4: Dee Brown, Jamar Smith, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, James Augustine
Differential: +17
Total Time on Court: 9.72 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: +69.98

5: Dee Brown, Jamar Smith, Brian Randle, Marcus Arnold, James Augustine
Differential: +12
Total Time on Court: 20.77 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: +23.11

Bruce Weber's starting lineup for every game in which Brian Randle was not injured has done a great job of setting the tone for the Illini in each half of the game. There were only two games in which the starting lineup did not provide a positive output for the Fighting Illini, Texas – Pan American and Arkansas – Little Rock. In fact, in both of these games Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber elected to go with a different lineup to start out the second half.

Against UTPA, Bruce Weber elected to not start out the second half with the starting lineup as they struggled mightily to score against the Broncs' zone defense.

Against Arkansas – Little Rock, Bruce Weber elected to stick with the hot hand and he started Jamar Smith in the second half instead of Rich McBride. The Arkansas – Little Rock game was probably the first time this season that the nation took notice of the Illini's sharpshooting freshman, Jamar Smith as he shot his way to 23 points on 8-of-10 from the floor, including 6-for-8 from behind the three-point line.

The only names that appear in all five of these lineups are the Illini's seniors, Dee Brown and James Augustine. As most people assumed at the beginning of the season, the Illini's success this season rests on the shoulders of these two players, and as conference play starts the reliance on Augustine and Brown will probably intensify.

If you take the Illini's numbers when Augustine and Brown are on the court together, and compare them with the numbers when they are on the bench in the pre-conference schedule, there is no comparison between how good the Illini have played.

Dee Brown & James Augustine on the Court Together
Differential: +211
Minutes Played: 314.18
Differential per 40 Minutes: +26.86

Dee Brown & James Augustine not on the Court Together
Differential: +44
Minutes Played: 125.82
Differential per 40 Minutes: +13.99

The second group contains times when Dee Brown was on the court and James Augustine was not on the court, and vice versa, as well as times when both players were on the bench.

Is Jamar Smith instant offense off the bench? With the same seven players in the top five lineups, it makes it easy to see slight differences in what each lineup brings the Illini. Looking at lineups that are one player removed from the starting lineup allows me to see how a player would react if inserted into the lineup off the bench early in the game. Lineups 3 and 4 above show that when Jamar Smith replaces one of Illinois' starters (be it Rich McBride or Shaun Pruitt), the Illini offensive production increases dramatically. Both of these lineups had the highest differential per 40 minutes in the top five, and they are because of the instant injection of offense Jamar Smith adds to the equation when he steps on the court.

ILLINOIS' BOTTOM FIVE FIVE-MAN UNITS
It is not surprising that three of the bottom five lineups did not contain James Augustine and Dee Brown, but one lineup that sticks out in the bottom group of lineups is one that has played 18 minutes together on the court (the fifth most used lineup) and has not had the success their playing time has warranted. This lineup is the Illini starting lineup, but Shaun Pruitt is replaced by junior forward Marcus Arnold.

The other lineups that complete this list is not surprising, as they are lineups that are in use when the game is well in hand (Chris Hicks is in the game) or Dee Brown and James Augustine are not on the court.

1: Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith, Calvin Brock, Warren Carter, Shaun Pruitt Differential: -8
Total Time on Court: 7.63 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: -41.92

2: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Calvin Brock, Marcus Arnold, James Augustine
Differential: -7
Total Time on Court: 6.72 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: -41.69

3: Chris Hicks, Rich McBride, Jamar Smith, Calvin Brock, Warren Carter
Differential: -4
Total Time on Court: 2.63 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: -60.76

4: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Marcus Arnold, James Augustine
Differential: -4
Total Time on Court: 18.30 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: -8.74

5: Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith, Brian Randle, Warren Carter, Shaun Pruitt
Differential: -3
Total Time on Court: 1.67 minutes
Differential per 40 minutes: -72.00

The only lineup in the bottom five that saw significant time on the court was lineup 4. I admit that I am surprised this lineup has struggled for the Illini, and it is sort of puzzling because all five of these players are also featured prominently in the Top Five Five-Man Units. Unlike the other lineups, this is a lineup in the Illini's main rotation, but it just does not seem like this group works well together on the court, for a reason that I cannot figure out. Does anyone have any ideas as to why? If so, post them on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum.


Tomorrow's edition of the Box Score Breakdown will look at the individual +/- statistics garnered during the non-conference season.

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