I kind of wanted the title of this post to be A Tale of Two Halves and the lede to be: "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times...", but that felt a tad dramatic for the fourth game of the season - especially against KenPom #333 Valparaiso.
So bereft of any early season melodrama - your two sentence game recap is:
We stunk up the first half - yet again. Terrence Shannon Jr. took over the game on both ends of the floor and Luke Goode connected on three consecutive triples to restore order and put the game out of reach in the second half as we cruised to an 87-64 win.
With that final score arriving within a couple of possessions of the expected outcome (the line was 29.5), I thought it would be a good segue into our seemingly annual discussion on scoring margin.
As we have covered before, scoring margin against bad teams matters. It just does. At the very least it tells a story. The moral of that story is basically that really good teams tend to blow out really bad teams.
Yet it's a rite of November for college basketball fans everywhere to immediately over value bad teams after watching their favorite teams struggle.
"Yeah, we didn't play well - but mark my words - you're going to see Bethune Cookman in the NCAA Tournament come March!"
Narrator: We did not see Bethune Cookman in the NCAA Tournament come March.
The more likely explanation for playing bad against bad teams? Your team is probably also kind of bad.
So whither Illinois?
On the surface it's fair to question the mettle of this team after watching them struggle against EIU, Oakland, and Valpo, but I think it's also fair to point out that basketball is a 40 minute game.
Our average scoring margin over these three games is +20.7. Respectable, but not exactly eye-popping. If we break the margin down by halves though:
First half total scoring margin: +6/Second half total scoring margin: +56
(Well, I guess it really is a tale of two halves after all.)
Extrapolate that second half margin and now you're in the +37 range - which is kind of where I like to live in these early cupcake games to feel good about what lies ahead when the competition stiffens.
I think it's worth pointing out, though, that against tougher competition (Marquette and the Kansas exhibition) we did answer the bell early.
So ultimately it's up to you to decide if you're a half full or half empty type. I think on the whole I'd rather be a good closer than a fast starter, but staking teams to early leads (EIU led by 9 in the first half, Oakland led by 7, and Valpo led by 10) is certainly a dangerous gambit.
Just a hunch, but I'm betting Southern University gets a buzzsaw on Sunday evening.
+ We are seeing a real "have" and "have-nots" thing going from the three point line. Luke Goode (11/23) and TSJ (11/28) are a combined 43% on 51 attempts. Marcus Domask (6/21), Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn (2/10), Quincy Guerrier (1/13), and Coleman Hawkins (1/7) are a combined 19.6% for the exact same number of 51 attempts. Feels like regression to the mean from both groups will eventually settle us in the 35-ish% range. If the defense remains as good as I think it can - I can absolutely live with 35%.
+ We have a similar outlier issue from the foul line. We are shooting 55.6% on free throws as a team, but a big chunk of that is Dain Dainja's 0/9. A big part of his low post game is drawing fouls (he was third on the team last season with 101 attempts) so he simply has to find his way there or it's going to be a heavy burden for this offense to carry.
+ Hop on the Amani Hansberry bus kids. He's as raw as it gets on offense right now, but he has all the tools to build that side of his game (including a really nice shooting stroke), and he already has the best rebounding percentage rates on the team. Monster in the making.
+ I was tonight years old when I found out that Valpo had changed their mascot/name to the Beacons.
+ And finally, it was so great to see Roger Powell back in the SFC. I have two distinctive memories which crystallize the 2005 team for me. One is Dee Brown sitting on the floor and nodding his head in approval during the dismantling of Wake Forest, and the other is the Rev flying in from the top of the key to tip dunk home his own three point miss in the National SemiFinal game against Louisville. Here's to hoping that his coaching career continues to rapidly ascend and the timing of such eventually coincides with an Illini coaching search somewhere down the road.