The Illinois basketball team marched to their sixth win, racing past the Nittany Lions on the road.
Penn State attempted to speed up the Illini from the jump, and oh man, did they get beat in their own game for the last 32 minutes.
In the last three games, the Illini allowed a combined 99 free throw attempts. Against Penn State, they allowed seven total free throws. That is not a typo.
Defending with energy, shutting off driving lanes and contesting without fouling allowed Illinois’ offensive production to feed off the defensive stops. Here are four statistics that led to the Illini’s dominating victory.
Andre Curbelo’s assist to turnover margin through the first five games, debatably the most vital statistic for a lead guard, was 13:16. He impressed but undoubtedly was loose with the ball.
In his last four games, Curbelo has an elite 26:7 assist to turnover ratio. High volume ball handlers going through the NBA Draft evaluation process usually produce very strong grades after ironing out a 2:1 ratio. As the freshman guard has settled in, he is nearing a 4:1 ratio.
Penn State obviously put a focus on pushing tempo and getting up as many shots as possible. Early on, they stormed to a 15-point lead. Yet, they must have not thrown on the Illini’s early-season tape.
Over the recent stretch of games, the Illini have been forced to score in the halfcourt, but do not get it twisted, this team is absolutely deadly in transition. Curbelo led the rush as the Illini went on a 94-62 run after the first few minutes.
Curbelo, in specific, thrives in a chaotic tempo because of his elite feel, advanced court vision, smooth passing ability and natural tendency to collapse defenses, putting his teammates in spots to thrive. The Puerto Rican born guard still has polishing to do in the halfcourt but continues to develop into a dynamo for the Illini.
A clean Curbelo is a scary sight for opponents. Pressing, double-teaming and pressure of any sort from opponents play directly into Curbelo’s hands.
Kofi Cockburn has made 71-percent of his attempts from the field over the last three games.
The sophomore has looked like a different animal over the last stretch of games, dominating down low, embracing contact, playing with extreme energy and finishing his chances with improved touch.
In comparison, Kofi has shot 57-percent from the field in his Illini tenure. The Illini have a +14 rebounding margin on the season, and they floated back towards that after a tough stretch of games at +11 versus Penn State. The development of Kofi’s touch, athleticism and body as a whole are fantastic, but his level of production within the Illini system will likely always hinge on his motor and overall energy.
The big man constantly showed effort boxing out on both ends and is, of course, clearing space with ease. Cockburn is one of the nation’s most dominant big men, and while has suffered from some inconsistencies in year two, he is truly coming into form at the right time as the Illini find their identity in 2020-21.
Jacob Grandison’s +/- total against Penn State was +22. His presence was absolutely vital against the Nittany Lions, thus the reason we saw little to none of Coleman Hawkins.
Grandison’s activity on both ends was fantastic, but the key trait that made him increasingly effective in this one was his IQ. He consistently kept the ball moving, found the open man and while he had only one assist on the stat sheet, he racked up numerous hockey assists with push-aheads in transition.
Penn State is not great competition, but Grandison’s floor stretching presence allowed Kofi to dominate in the paint and opened up driving lanes for Dosunmu and Curbelo. His performance is a great trend for the Illini, who have had to alter personnel at the No. 3 and No. 4 spot at the end of the rotation depending on the matchup.
Grandison’s experience is evident and while he has had to catch up to the speed and physicality defensively early in the season, he provides a unique skillset offensively with his passing and shooting ability while showing further signs of defensive versatility against Penn State.
Look for Coach Underwood to reward Grandison with more minutes moving forward as the rotation becomes cemented.
30, 6, 5, and 10/11 from the line
I have said it over and over again, and I will say it again, the Illini are their best when Ayo Dosunmu is filling up every category.
In nearly every game, Dosunmu has flaunted his ability to find his shot with ease. That ability will not change, as he is one of the most talented bucket getters in the nation. But the Illini will not make the run in March that they are looking for with Dosunmu getting his own every night.
The Illini have won over 80-percent of games over the last two years when Dosunmu has six or more rebounds. Add another win to that column. The junior’s passing ability continues to develop as he slows down the game even more, manipulating defenses with a lethal change of pace.
In a somewhat quiet fashion, Dosunmu poured in 30 points due to 10 free throw makes. A strong sign for Dosunmu as a career 74-percent free throw shooter and the Illini who are shooting a lowly 68-percent from the line on the season.
Dosunmu’s +/- was +21 against PSU, second to only Jacob Grandison. Grandison’s tally is uber impressive because of the limited minutes, but to go +21 while playing 37 minutes shows a ton about Dosunmu’s value to the Illini outside of just scoring.
In year three with a broader frame, the ability to slow the game down and developed instincts, Dosunmu continues to show off a heightened ability to guard multiple positions defensively.
Overall, Dosunmu is getting better every game. He has had the tools to fill it up for years now, but he is learning how to dominate college basketball and the Big Ten by stuffing the stat sheet every night. The Illini appear to be headed back in the right direction as a unit.