Finals Week Review: The Team

It's Finals Week in Champaign, IL and the Number One team in the nation is taking tests and practicing to prepare for the end of the non-conference season and the start of conference play in January. takes this lull in the season to take a look back on what has happened in the first nine games of the 100th year of Illinois Basketball.

The 2004-2005 season started off as a historic season for Illinois basketball thanks to it being the 100th year basketball has been played at the University of Illinois. This season, Illinois fans have seen things that they have never seen in the previous 100 years of basketball at the University of Illinois. The list of accomplishments this season is amazing:
  • First win over a #1 team since 1979.
  • Being ranked #1 for just the third time in school history (the other times were 1952 & 1989)
  • Being ranked #1 for two straight weeks for the first time in school history
While these historical achievements are great things for the University of Illinois basketball program, it is what fans, recruits, opposing players & coaches, and the national media is seeing on the court that has gotten the Illini drawing the attention of college basketball fans across the country. The Illini's dismantling of Gonzaga and Wake Forest on National TV lead off Sports Center, and were the lynch pins in getting this Illinois team Number One.

Why is Illinois Ranked No. 1 in the Nation?
Two simple reasons: excellent offensive execution and very good defense.

Every one has heard the announcers during games pointing to the number of assists Illinois has, the excellent ball movement as a result of the motion offense, and the unselfishness of Illinois' guards. What does all this mean though? Basically it means what it says, Illinois' offense works so well because the team is extremely unselfish and will make the extra pass to find an even more open shooter. No one cares who scores, and as long as the team does well everyone is happy. According to ESPN's Jay Bilas, Illinois is a "pure basketball team."

But how good is Illinois' offense?

The Illini are scoring 83.3 points per game, but that only tells half the story. Sure, the Illini are scoring a lot, but how often are they scoring when they have the ball in their hand? To answer that, I again look at the Illini offensive efficiency numbers that I have been giving out in game recaps all season.

In the first nine games of the year, Illinois's offensive efficiency1 is 122.45 which leads to 1.23 points scored for every offensive possession. To give you some basis for comparison in this number, last season Illinois' offensive efficiency was 111.29.

As Bruce Weber said at the beginning of the season, offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. So, how does the Illini defense hold up this season? To say pretty well would be an understatement. The Illini's defensive efficiency2 is 93.08 throughout the first nine games of this season. Using the same comparison I did for the offense, Illinois' defensive efficiency last season was 97.61.

  2003-2004 2004-2005
Offensive Efficiency 111.29 122.45
Defensive Efficiency 97.61 93.08
Differential +13.69 +29.37

The Fighting Illini have improved on both sides of the court from last season's Sweet 16 run, but the major defense can be seen on the offensive side of the ball. It is an often reported fact that the Illini struggled to warm up to the new offensive system under Bruce Weber last season, and now that they have the Illini have they have excelled offensively.

To further illustrate just how good Illinois is playing on offense, here are some of the numbers that people like to throw out:
  • Points per Shot Attempt: 1.41
  • Percent of Made Field Goals Assisted: 69.8%
  • Assist to Turnover Ratio: 1.7:1
  • Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 40.5%
As a team, right now there is no better group of thirteen players in college basketball than the University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

Tomorrow's installment of the Finals Week Review will include a look at each player on the Illini roster on what they have done this season, and what to expect from them in the second half of the season.

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