5 key stats for the Illinois basketball team to make a deep NCAA tournament run

Head coach Brad Underwood is leading the Illinois basketball program to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance after seven years of not making the Big Dance.
Ohio State v Illinois
Ohio State v Illinois / David Berding/GettyImages

Illinois basketball enters the 2024 NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed, as we take on No. 13 Morehead State in the first round.

This postseason will hopefully result in a deep run for the Illini. We haven't been to the Sweet 16 since the 2005 NCAA tournament, so a second weekend game would be nice.

There are some keys for the Illini to go deep in the NCAA tournament, though.

Here are five key stats for the Illinois basketball team to go deep in the NCAA tournament

1. Field goal shooting

Now this one may seem obvious, but to say the Illini haven't shot the ball well in each of their previous couple postseasons would be an understatement.

In Illinois' past two tournament appearances, the Orange and Blue have shot a combined 37.1% from the field. This includes an underwhelming 22.9% from three-point range.

Fortunately, Illinois is shooting the ball much better this year. From the field, the Illini are shooting 47.1%. This ranks No. 8 in the nation. From beyond the three-point arc, the Illini shoot 35%. While that isn't all so impressive, ranking No. 126 in the country, it's an improvement from what they'd been shooting in each of the past couple of postseason runs.

The step forward is largely thanks to senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who leads the team with 23 points per game and is shooting an impressive 47% from the field, which ranks No. 3 in the country. He's also shooting a solid 36.2% from three-point range.

2. Free throw shooting

The Illini have struggled with the easy ones, shooting a combined 68.6% in their last two NCAA tournament appearances. The worst came against Chattanooga in 2022, hitting a whopping 59.1% from the charity stripe.

This year has been a slight improvement, with the Illini hitting 74.5% of their free-throw attempts. Senior guard Justin Harmon leads the team, hitting over 90% of his attempts. Marcus Domask is also shooting an impressive 87.9% from the free throw line, ranking No. 32 in the nation.

For what it's worth, Morehead State ranks No. 250 in the country, shooting just 70.5% from the charity stripe.

3. Rebounding margin

The big guys need to step up. The Illini have been outrebounded by all three of their opponents in the past two offseasons. Last year, Arkansas grabbed nine more boards than the Orange and Blue. The Illini allowed them to haul in 11 offensive rebounds as well. That just shows the Razorbacks wanted it more.

The Illini have a rebound margin of 8.4 this year, meaning they are grabbing 8.4 more rebounds per game than their opponent. Senior forward Quincy Guerrier leads the team in the feat, hauling in 6.4 rebounds per game. Illinois will also need fellow senior forward Coleman Hawkins to win battles under the basket. With his lengthy 6-foot-11 frame, this shouldn't be an issue for the NBA prospect.

Ty Rodgers has also been a beast under the basket with his bulldog playstyle, grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game.

If we hope to see an improvement in this category, Illinois needs to go into this year's NCAA tournament hungrier than we've ever seen them.

4. Turnovers

I feel like this one is also stating the obvious, but it's been one of the primary reasons Illinois hasn't been able to go far in the NCAA tournament. The Illini have turned the ball over 48 times in their last three tournament games. In two of those three games, they turned the ball over 17 times.

This absolutely can not happen this year, especially when you have elite teams like Iowa State and UConn in your region.

Unfortunately, it's still been an issue, as the Orange and Blue average nearly 11 turnovers per game this year. The team's two stars Shannon and Domask lead the team with 2.0 and 2.3 turnovers per game, respectively. So those two will need to prioritize ball safety.

5. Steals

Illinois has failed to out steal each of its opponents in their last three NCAA tournament games, managing seven fewer steals than the opposing team.

It's not looking like there will be much improvement this year, as the Illini rank nearly last in the country with just 4.2 steals per game. We can only hope that changes this month.

Illinois will look to make a deep run this year beginning on Thursday with a matchup vs. No. 14 Morehead State. Tipoff is set for 2:10 p.m. CT.

With a win, the Illini play the winner of No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Duquesne in the Round of 32.

5 massive questions for the Illinois basketball team against Morehead State. 5 massive questions for the Illinois basketball team against Morehead State. dark. Next