Illinois Basketball: Illini grades from the Hall of Fame Classic

The Illinois basketball team traveled to the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, to take on Cincinnati in game one of the Hall of Fame Classic.

Sadly, the Illini ended up getting blown out by the Bearcats, 71-51. Illinois came into the game ranked as the No. 14 team in the country after a tough one-point loss to Marquette a week prior.

It was supposed to be all sunshine and rainbows after the Illini welcomed back All-American center Kofi Cockburn, but it wasn’t after getting blown off the floor by Cincinnati.

Here are the Illinois basketball grades from the Cincinnati game.

Offense Grade: D

This is the second game in a row where I have to give the Illini offense a D for a grade. The offense started out hot, leading Cincinnati 23-8 at one point in the first half. Kofi Cockburn made his impact early in the game starting off 5-of-6 from the field and showing his physical presence against the Cincinnati defense.

After the first ten minutes of the game, it was a completely different story. Cincinnati changed up some of their defensive schemes. They started double-teaming and returning the physicality with Kofi in the post and forced him to throw up tough shots or pass out of a double or sometimes triple-teams. We all know that is not a strength of Kofi, considering he only had five assists all of last season.

Andre Curbelo was a little better but still struggled to initiate the offense after the first ten minutes. He finished 4-of-12 from the field with 12 points, five turnovers, and another technical.

The story of the game was the poor play of the supporting cast. Trent Fraizer, Coleman Hawkins, and Jacob Grandison finished a combined 1-of-16 from the field with three points. That just can’t happen if the Illini want to be toward the top of the Big Ten

The Illinois offense just looked broken. They shot 28% from the field and 3-of-22 from the three-point arc. Another alarming stat was Illinois’ 14 turnovers compared to only 10 assists.

Defense Grade: D

The Illinois offense struggled so badly that I feel it bled into the defensive side of the court. The Bearcats came out and punched the Illini in the mouth, going on a 22-5 run to start the second half.

Watching the game, you could tell that Cinncinatti was tougher than the Illini, and Brad Underwood said so in the postgame press conference. Illinois was outrebounded by the Bearcats 40-36 and allowed a whopping 13 offensive rebounds.

Kofi Cockburn did not make his presence felt on the defensive side of the court, and that will need to change moving forward.

Illinois then took on Kanas State in the third-place game of the Hall Of Fame Classic. The Illini won 72-64 over the Wildcats in a hard-fought game.

Here are the grades from the Illinois basketball win over Kansas State

Offense Grade: B

The Illini offense looked much better against Kansas State. Kofi led the way finishing 8-of-10 from the field and 7-of-13 from the free throw line. He ended the night with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists for his 29th career double-double.

We talked above about Kofi struggling to pass out of the double team against Cincinnati,but he did that a few times against Kansas State and hit some open shooters.

One of those shooters Kofi hit was Alfonso Plummer. It was also the coming-out party at Illinois for the 5th-year transfer.

Plummer was huge off the bench scoring 21 points on 7-pf-9 shooting from the three-point arc. Every three-point basket he hit seemed to be in a huge spot of the game where the Illini needed a bucket.

Curbelo took much better care of the basketball with only having two turnovers. He is also dealing with a neck injury. Curbelo finished with six points and seven assists.

The Illini still turned the ball over too many times as a team with 18 turnovers, but they did have 20 assists to counter the turnovers.

Austin Hutcherson didn’t have a flashy game but came up big handling the ball. With Curbelo dealing with the neck injury, and Fraizer leaving early in the second half due to a leg injury, Hutcherson was the de facto point guard to close the game out the last two or so minutes.

Defense Grade: B+

Illinois’ defense played much better against Kansas State. While they only forced four turnovers, Illinois managed to force the Wildcats into tough shot after tough shot holding them to 38.5% from the field and 28% from the three-point arc.

The Illini played well on defense without fouling as well. They held Kansas State to only nine free throw attempts for the entire game. That was much improved from the night before when Cincinnati got to the foul line 20 times. Fraizer was great as usual on the defensive end until his leg got rolled up on by teammate Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk.

Overall Grade: C

After a disappointing first game against Cincinnati, Illinois was able to bounce back and play a solid game against Kansas State. The team showed some heart and battled back after being down in the second half.

The thing that worries me the most moving forward is the injuries this team is already dealing with. Illinois is already shorthanded at the point guard position, and now Frazier could miss multiple games with that leg injury that looked nasty.

Like I said above Curbelo is also dealing with a neck injury. I said in my first article that Hutcherson is the ultimate x-factor, and he might have to step into a bigger role sooner rather than later with all of these injuries.

The Illini welcome UT Rio Grande (3-2) to the State Farm Center on Friday, November 26, as they hope to improve to 4-2 in non-conference.