What I Learned: Michael Finke

Fletcher Page's thoughts after watching 2014 Illinois commit Michael Finke.

I watched Centennial defeat Normal West Friday, with a layup at the buzzer giving the Chargers a 53-51 win on their home court.

The ending was exciting, but I was mainly there to watch Michael Finke, the junior forward who verbally committed to Illinois earlier this week.

Here are a few of my thoughts…

- West came out in a zone – the defense it played all night. Finke immediately got to work running the baseline. He would do this and flash to the high post all game long. What I liked about his off-the-ball work was that he was always in position to shoot or pass before he got the ball. I liked his footwork and the way his body was always squared and ready.

- His first basket came on a set inbounds play. The ball was lobbed into the lane to Finke and he jumped into the air, caught it and shot all in one motion. Was a smooth looking play and gave the West frontline – a duo of 6-6 and 6-5 players – no time to block it.

- His second basket was a baseline drive, generated by good ball movement and Finke catching it deep off a baseline cut. He hit the shot from the short corner despite being slapped in the head during his shooting motion – a strong take and finish. He missed the free throw. More on that later.

- Later in the first half, Finke nearly had the play of the game. He caught the ball in transition at half court, took a few dribbles to get inside the 3-point line, put a spin move on the defender back on d and left the floor to go up for a dunk. I didn't see it coming – not a boost off the floor like that. He didn't finish the dunk though, as he didn't quite get the ball over the rim. He was fouled on the play, which helped him save face. Not that it was embarrassing – I can't believe he was looking to dunk off that, which showed me his aggressiveness and athleticism.

- On a subsequent possession, he caught the ball at the top of the key and immediately shot it. He had a defender on him, but his height and jump created virtually an open look. I'm not saying he's Kevin Durant out there, but it's not all that often you see players that can get off a shot like that anywhere and anytime he wants it.

- Finke got his highlight dunk on a put-back off of a teammate's missed layup. The first shot looked like a sure bet to go in, but Finke rose off the floor just to make sure. The ball came off the front of the rim and Finke stuffed it home.

- He had 10 points and six rebounds at the half. Centennial was cruising, up big.

- The game tightened in the second half as West effectively pressed the Chargers into turnovers and quick shots. Finke, when he got the ball, handled the pressure well. He towered over the guys trying to trap him and for the most part made good decisions to pass through the pressure.

- With the game close – 42-36 with under four to play – Finke took it to the hole, drew contact and a foul, and converted the shot. He sank the free throw to give the Chargers a nine-point lead.

That was Finke's last score, as West mounted a comeback and almost won. Junior guard Dedrick Byrd hit a layup at the buzzer to give Centennial the win in a game it dominated throughout. Finke finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

- My overall impressions of Finke were extremely positive. A few things I loved: The way he ran the floor. He was routinely the first player to the offensive end and moved really fluid for a player his size. The way he remained in position to shoot and score at all times on offense. He was always a threat and showed a quick catch and release. His footwork, on both ends of the floor, was also impressive.

His 3-point shot wasn't falling on this night, but the ball had a soft landing on the rim on each miss. Something that did surprise me, and maybe it was just an aberration of this particular game, but he missed a handful of free throws. At one point, head coach Tim Lavin told Finke he wasn't following through/asked for more action from his wrist.

Clearly, Finke needs to add weight and strength. I've heard he's gained 30 pounds from last season – he's going to need more, and he's got plenty of time to do that. I didn't see his strength as a glaring weakness, but there were a few occasions where he pulled down a rebound and ended up in a jump ball situation.

I've seen comparisons to current Illini forward Tyler Griffey. I can see the resemblance, but I think he's Griffey with a higher ceiling. I don't see his 3-point shot ever being as good as Griff's (I could certinaly be proven wrong), but I think Finke has more potential to make an impact in the paint. Maybe Robbie Hummel is the better comparison, but I need to see more of Finke before I'm sure about this.

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