Illinois Basketball: Hunter Dickinson is back, but can the Illini stop him again?

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson dribbles against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn during the first half Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Michigan center Hunter Dickinson dribbles against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn during the first half Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. /

Since 2019, the Illinois basketball program has had the number of the Michigan Wolverines.

It has been five straight wins for the Illini against the Maize and Blue, but a lot of that winning coincides with big man Kofi Cockburn arriving on campus. In fact, Illinois had lost 14 out of the last 16 games against the Wolverines before Kofi’s presence graced the Orange and Blue fanbase.

With Kofi anchoring the paint, Illinois has won each of the five games by an average of 11.4 points. That is quite the run. Michigan’s response to the Illini’s recent winning? They brought in a big man of their own in Hunter Dickinson.

Over the past two seasons, Dickinson has only matched up against the Illini on two different occasions. He missed the January 14, 2022 tilt in which the Illini won by 15 points, but he did play in the other two contests between the two teams in 2021 and 2022.

Illinois fans aren’t finished with the Michigan big man either. On Sunday, Dickinson announced via his Twitter page that he was returning for his junior year with the Wolverines. This was big news for Michigan considering they are coming off a Sweet 16 run as a No. 11 seed this past season. But it is also big news because Dickinson won’t have to match up with Kofi anymore thanks to the Illinois big man heading to the NBA.

Will Hunter Dickinson be that much better without Kofi Cockburn on the Illinois basketball team?

Dickinson is a really good basketball player who has the ability to be effective at the next level if he can develop his three-point shot just a little more. He gives me Kevin Love vibes at times. But I think it is fair to say, Illinois gave Dickinson problems in his first two years.

In the two games Dickinson played against Illinois, he went a combined 5-of-21 from the field and 1-of-5 from three-point range. He averaged 9.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 3.5 fouls, and 1.5 turnovers per game as well.

But, a reminder, that was against an Illinois team that had another seven-foot big man in Kofi. I wanted to see if Dickinson was actually better with Kofi off the court compared to when he matched up against the Illinois legend. The answer is obviously, yes, but how much better was Dickinson, and will Kofi not being on the Illini be a huge difference-maker?

I broke down the numbers of when Dickinson was on the court with and without Kofi in each of the two games. For full transparency, I rounded the seconds to the nearest minute to make things cleaner. I think took the per 40 minutes average of Dickinson with and without Kofi on the court.

So, without Kofi on the court, Dickinson’s per 40 minutes average in the two games was 23.3 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.3 fouls, and 3.3 turnovers per game. With Kofi on the court, Dickinson’s per 40 minutes average in the two games was 9.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 fouls, and 1.4 turnovers per game.

In each contest, Dickinson saw roughly six minutes without Kofi on the floor. He then played 28 minutes in the game this past February and 16 minutes in the game back in March 2021 with Kofi on the floor.

The big number that stands out to me is the points. Kofi was clearly a defensive stopper when it comes to Dickinson getting to the hoop. If you look at the shooting numbers without Kofi on the court, Dickinson was 2-of-4 from the field, and with Kofi on the court, he was 3-of-17 from the floor. That is a substantial difference.

If you look at the other numbers for Dickinson, there really isn’t a huge difference when Kofi was on and off the court. Dickinson averaged 2.9 more rebounds per 40 minutes when Kofi was on the bench. Surprisingly, Dickinson averaged more turnovers and fouls per 40 minutes when Kofi wasn’t on the floor. I would think that would be the opposite.


We all know Dickinson is a good player. He averaged 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this past season while shooting 56.3% from the field. But he has only averaged 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 23.8% against Illinois during his career. A big reason for the scoring differential was Kofi.

Kofi gave Dickinson all sorts of trouble when it came to putting the ball in the hoop. Illinois is going to need to find a defensive stopper in the paint if they want to continue containing Dickinson in the scoring department.

Besides scoring, I am not too worried about what Dickinson will do to the Illini next season. Numbers show that he wasn’t exceedingly better without Kofi on the floor, besides for scoring. As long as we can keep Dickinson’s scoring in check, him returning to Ann Arbor shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

Next. Projected Illini lineup with Skyy Clark. dark