Illini improvement reflected in statistics

The Big Ten appears much improved in basketball this year. Illinois has the most wins, but no team has a losing record and Minnesota and Ohio State remained unbeaten through Tuesday. It should be an interesting conference season. A look at the individual and team statistics for the Big Ten shows Illini figuring prominently.

Purdue leads the Big Ten in scoring offense and scoring margin, while Illinois ranks 6th (the Chicago State game was not included in these statistics). Illinois is third in field goal percentage behind Iowa and Minnesota, and it ranks third in free throw percentage. It's 3-point shooting percentage ranks 6th.

Defensively Northwestern is the stingiest, giving up an average of 49.4 points a game, although part of that is their deliberate offensive style. Ohio State is second, followed by Iowa, Purdue and Illinois, which is giving up 57.0 points a game. The Illini are sixth in field goal percentage defense and second in 3-point field goal percentage defense.

As expected, rebounding rankings for the Illini suffer in comparison witht most of their conference brethren. They are eighth in rebounding offense and rebounding margin with Michigan State the leader, and they are sixth in rebounding defense with Iowa the leader. They are ninth in average defensive rebounds but fourth in offensive rebounds.

The Illini are the clear Big Ten leader in assists, averaging 19.2 a game, a testament to their teamwork and chemistry. They average nearly two assists a game more than runnerup Purdue. And they are tied with Penn State for fourth in turnover margin. Purdue leads that category. They are second only to Penn State in assist/turnover ratio at 1.5.

The Illini are known for their good defense, but they are lacking in some defensive categories. They are 8th in blocked shots with an average of 3.11 per game. That compares with 8.20 blocks average for Ohio State. And they are over 3 steals a game less than leader Minnesota. The Illini are ranked 8th in that category.

Individually, Michigan's dynamic Manny Harris leads the Big 10 with a 20.8 scoring average. Penn State's sophomore point guard Talor Battle is a close second with 19.2. Evan Turner of Ohio State, DeShawn Sims of Michigan, and MSU's Raymar Morgan follow with averages in the 16's. Top Illini performer so far is Mike Davis, 12th at 14.2 points a game. Demetri McCamey is 15th while averaging 13.2. Trent Meacham is 27th.

Davis is 5th in field goal percentage at .571. Leader of this category is tall freshman Colton Iverson of Minnesota, who's connecting on 2/3 of his shots in limited attempts. He is followed by MSU's Raymar Morgan, OSU's Dallas Lauderdale, and Indiana's Tom Pritchard.

Davis, McCamey, Meacham, Mike Tisdale, Chester Frazier, and Dominique Keller all have free throw shooting percentages that would place them among the leaders. But they are not included in official statistics that require a minimum of two made free throws per game. They need to be more aggressive attacking the basket so they will get fouled more often.

Chester Frazier leads the Big Ten with a 6.44 assist average, while McCamey is fifth at 5.22. Davis is second behind Sims in rebounding, averaging 8.3 a game. Predictably, he is the only Illini in the top 20. No Illini are in the top 15 in steals.

Based on all ten games played, the Illini are shooting at a .474 clip, including .364 on 3-point shots. They have 197 total assists for their 277 baskets, and that teamwork is a major factor in their shooting success. Their free throws are up to .709, although they did falter some against Chicago State.

Illinois is holding opponents to 56.3 points a game on a lowly .394 shooting percentage. They have a 14.6 scoring margin. They barely lead their opponents in rebounds, and this must be improved. They are forcing 16.6 turnovers a game from their opponents, 3.6 more than their own turnover average.

Statistics cannot always be used to predict a conference race, and these preliminary results are no exception. Since the nonconference schedules of Big 10 teams vary considerably in degree of difficulty, all stats must be thrown out once the conference season begins. But some things about the Illinois team are obvious.

The Illini are functioning as a team rather than a group of individuals this year. The impressive assists-per-baskets-made totals demonstrate they are making the extra pass and finding the open man. Their defensive prowess is also proven in the stats. Teamwork on offense and defense are helping the Illini overcome the bad memories of the two previous years.

Also, it is obvious the Illini need to improve their rebounding on both the offensive and defensive glass. Unless they learn to pound the boards every game and block out their opponents, they will get torn apart by stronger Big 10 teams. And their relatively low block totals point out the problems they have defending inside strength. Big athletic teams will cause problems for the Illini.

It seems clear that Big 10 teams are beginning to pad their rosters with more talented players. After seeing a downturn in talent for a few years, that cycle is beginning to reverse. So while the Illini are much improved, so are most other Big 10 teams.

The teams that rise to the top will be the ones who can play at a high level both on the road and at home and keep injuries to a minimum.

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