Box Score Breakdown: Finals Week Review

It is finals week at the University of Illinois, so that means the Illini are on the longest stretch of the season without any basketball game being played. During finals week, students on campuses all around the country combine binge drinking with cramming for finals, so what better time is there to look back on the first ten games of the season than right now? This edition of the Box Score Breakdown looks at the Illini's individual statistics over the first ten games of the season.

If you cast a ballot across the college basketball fan base, I don't think any one (including the author of this article) but the very die hard Illinois fans would have predicted a 10-0 start to the season for the Fighting Illini. After losing three starters, and two key players off the end of the bench, pundits and Illini fans did not expect this season to start out at all like last season did, but Bruce Weber and his Fighting Illini had different ideas. They have started out 10-0 for the second straight season and made their way back into the Top Ten in the national polls.

While this season's run has not included the dismantling of Gonzaga and the then Number One ranked team in the country Wake Forest, but it has included some good wins for the Fighting Illini. Among the Illini's ten wins has been a "revenge" win over North Carolina in the Dean Dome, defeating Wichita State on a final second shot by backup forward Warren Carter off an inbounds pass, Dee Brown and James Augustine ending their career 12-0 in the United Center with a victory over Xavier, and a 30-point victory over Oregon that reminded the nation that Illinois was still a team to be reckoned with.

Before the game over Oregon, the local and national press have been focusing on the struggles of Illinois point guard Dee Brown to adjust without his backcourt running mates, Luther Head and Deron Williams. While it is true that Dee has struggled this season to adjust to the point guard position, the media pundits were all missing on two key points: (1) Dee was adjusting to his new teammates and role and (2) Dee was recovering from the broken foot he suffered in the Chicago Pre-Draft camp after last season. After Dee's 26-point outburst in the Oregon game, the national press starting to take notice of the Illini and Brown, but the changes in Brown's game had been occurring earlier in the season, hinting he was about the break out and show why he was named the Big Ten Pre-Season Player of the Year.

In this edition of the Box Score Breakdown, will look at statistics for each Illini player, and breakdown how they have played through the first ten games of the season.

For an image of the Illini's statistics through ten games that were used to create this article, click here.

Dee has seen a sharp drop in his efficiency numbers from last season when he was mainly a spot up shooter after either Deron Williams or Luther Head created shots in the Illinois offense. This season Dee has had to take the role of Illinois' main creator and scorer, and it has taken him a while to adjust to the role, but he has done so while leading Illinois to victories. Early in the season, Brown struggled with increased numbers of turnovers early in the season, but as the season has progressed Dee's turnover numbers have decreased, while his assists have increased (in Illinois' victory over Oregon, Dee had nine assists to just one turnover).

When critiquing Dee Brown's game, the pundits have pointed to his decrease in shooting percentage (TS% of 49.27%) as their main point for criticism. Dee's decrease in shooting percentage has become an even bigger problem for the Illini because of his increased usage (his usage rate is 24.62, the highest on the Illini). Earlier in the season, it was a common experience for the Illini offense to just sit around and watch Dee Brown attempt to create shots for himself, or teammates. This reliance on Dee has increased his usage, while decreasing his efficiency.

As a creator, Dee has improved as he has gotten familiar with his teammates, and his teammates have stepped up to fill the scoring void. In the last few games, Dee's assist ratio has increased, while his turnover ratio has decreased. Dee is now getting more comfortable blending the role of scoring and running the team, and in Illinois' last few games has become the lead guard that Jay Bilas described him as on during the preseason.

Augustine came into the season with high expectations placed on him by some of the local media. There have been games this season where James was unstoppable, including a Big Ten Player of the Week Award during this season when the Illini took on North Carolina and Xavier.

The biggest problem with James Augustine this season is that he has not shot the ball more. Only Jamar Smith has a higher true shooting percentage than James Augustine among the regular players (Chris Hicks has a higher true shooting percentage, but really that does not count), yet James' usage rate is only 17.04, and it should be closer to 20 with this Illinois team. When he has the ball in his hands, he is Illinois' most effective inside scorer with a points per shot attempt of 1.31, and when a shot is missed by the Illini, he has really improved his offensive rebounding to an impressive 4.10 rebounds per 35 minutes.

Defensively, the biggest knock on James was his inability to stay out of foul trouble. This season, James has not fouled out of a game for the Illini, and he is only averaging 2.7 fouls per 35 minutes of play. James has continued to be the most impressive rebounder wearing an Illinois uniform. His rebounding rate of 17.05 is only behind fellow starter on the front line Shaun Pruitt, which is a good reason that the Illini have outrebounded their opposition by over eight rebounds per game this season.

Jamar has probably been the biggest surprise for the Illini this season. The freshman from Peoria came into Illinois with a reputation as being a sharp shooter, but no one really knew how good he was going to be through the first ten games of his college career. Jamar is the leader in numerous offensive categories for the Illini, including eFG%, TS%, 3FG%, points per shot attempt, and points per 35 minutes of action. Jamar had a big coming out party and the nation took notice against Arkansas – Little Rock when he scored 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 6-for-8 from behind the three point line.

Jamar has become Bruce Weber's assassin off the bench. When the Illini need a scoring punch from someone, Weber looks down the bench and inserts the freshman to provide a quick left to the Illini offense, either in a two guard set, or the ever familiar three guard lineup.

Besides being the scoring assassin off the bench, Weber discovered another place that he can utilize Jamar Smith when he is inserted into the game, the on the ball defender. In order to both hide Jamar's deficiencies as a help-side defender, and give Dee Brown a little of a rest on the defensive side of the court, ever since the Xavier game, Weber has used Jamar as Illinois' main on-the-ball defender when he is in the game. This move has not only given Jamar increased confidence on the defensive end of the court, and created a few turnovers it has also coinciding with Dee Brown's re-emergence on the offensive end of the court.

Rich was given the impossible task of being the starting guard in a back court that was vacated by Luther Head's graduation and Deron Williams' departure to the NBA. Rich has been much maligned this year by fans who want to see Jamar Smith in the starting lineup, but Rich's game has really improved from the spot up shooter that he was in his first two seasons at Illinois. Rich's defense, passing, and ball handling has improved this season so much so that he has the second highest assist rate (22.39) and the second lowest turnover rate (7.20) on the Illinois roster.

Besides improving the other aspects of his game, Rich has also diversified his offensive game as more of the scoring load has fallen on his shoulders. While he still takes the majority of his shots from behind the three-point line (75.29%), it is now not that rare to see Rich give a defender a pump fake and take the ball to the lane for a runner, or to find an open teammate for a shot.

After sitting out last season with a wrist injury, Brian Randle became the first true wing forward to start at Illinois since radio color commentator Jerry Hester did in the 1997-1998 season. Randle made a name for himself during his freshman season with highlight reel slam dunks, and his defense. This year, Bruce Weber has asked Brian to take a more active role in the Illini offense, but he is still very timid offensively, only averaging just over six shots per game.

Despite being second on the team in offensive rebounds per 35 minutes (behind James Augustine), Brian may be the Illini's best offensive rebounder. Brian's offensive rebounding has been a key in keeping the Illini offense going, especially against zone defenses. Against the zone, Brian has taken advantage of the lack of boxing out by the defense to clean up the glass and get second chance points.

There were a lot of questions as to who would start for the Illini next to James Augustine when the season began, but sophomore Shaun Pruitt became the answer. Pruitt has become the Illini's best rebounder this season with a rebounding rate of 17.69. Offensively, Pruitt is still a little bit raw, and he struggles on the free throw line (43.48%), but he has still managed to keep his points per shot attempt above one (1.02).

One of the main reasons Shaun is only playing 18.4 minutes per game is his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Shaun averages just under five fouls for every thirty-five minutes of game time, which keeps him sitting next to the Illini coaches with foul trouble all too often.

Warren may have scored Illinois' most important basket of the season when he hit the game winning shot on the inbounds play against Wichita State in the South Padre Invitational. After two years of playing behind Roger Powell and Jack Ingram, this was supposed to be the season that Warren Carter finally lived up to the potential that fans had seen in him during the first two years of his career.

Unfortunately, Warren's defense or lack there of has kept him out of the lineup during key times. When Carter is in the game, he is not afraid to shoot the basketball. His usage rate (21.89) is only lower than Dee Brown's, despite the fact that he has the third lowest points per shot attempt (0.84) on the Illini roster. Warren has a nice jump shot from seventeen feet, but he needs to learn when to take the shot, and not take it every time he has a second to shoot because as the Illini showed last season, making the extra pass will get an even better shot opportunity for the offense.

Marcus has seen his time increase in the Illini rotation as the season progressed and the games have gotten harder. Marcus does not do one thing great, but he does every thing except pass (considering he has not had an assist all season). Marcus would probably see more time in the Illini rotation were he able to stay out of foul trouble. Of the regular rotation players, Marcus leads the Illini in fouls per 35 minutes with 6.03.

When it comes to defense and rebounding, Marcus has been solid. He has a rebounding rate of 14.03, and is averaging 8.45 rebounds per 35 minutes. Offensively, Marcus should be converting his shots into points more, but he has been serviceable with a 0.93 points per shot attempt, the lowest of any member in the Illini's eight-man rotation.

Redshirt freshman Calvin Brock has seen action in seven games, and is seeing more time now that Chester Frazier has gone down with a thigh injury, but he still is not a vital piece in Bruce Weber's rotation. While he has struggled with his jump shot, Calvin has done one thing better than any other Illinois player on the roster, get to the free throw line. Calvin takes 1.1 free throws for every attempt from the floor. Outside of Calvin, only Shaun Pruitt and James Augustine are the only Illini with free throw rates over 0.5.

Freshman Chester Frazier has missed the Illini's last three games with an injury to his thigh, but when he was playing, he was getting sixteen minutes per game as the Illini's back up point guard. Offensively, Chester is a work in progress with the lowest true shooting percentage (29.07%) and the lowest points per shot attempt (0.5) on the roster.

While Chester may not score, he has not been asked to score, but what he has been able to do is run the Illini offense. Chester is second on the Illinois roster with 4.7 assists per 35 minutes, and first on the roster with an astronomical assist ratio of 41.44 while keeping his turnover ratio at 11.05. The problem is defenses are soon to learn that Chester is not an offensive threat (his usage rate is the lowest on the Illini at 9.34), and back off him making it difficult for him to find teammates for shots unless he becomes more assertive offensively.

Bruce Weber joked earlier this season that Orange Krush knew the name of his new walkon before he did. Like any good walkon, Chris is not shy about hoisting up shots when he gets a chance as he has the second highest usage rate on the Illini. Chris has not seen any meaningful minutes for the Illini, and that trend will probably continue, but you can expect the Orange Krush to continue cheering for him when the Illini are winning big in Assembly Hall.
If you are wondering what some of these statistics mean, please read this previous edition of the Box Score Breakdown for an explanation.

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