Illinois coach Bruce Weber brought together a bunch of no-names, molded them into a unit void of individualism and led them to an 11-7 Big 10 audit and 23-8 season record going into the Big 10 Tournament this week. While the last second loss at Penn State stung, it was not a permanent injury as the Illini were still able to secure a tie for 2nd place in the Big 10.
And since Illinois swept Purdue in their two meetings, the Illini now have the second seed for the upcoming Big 10 Tournament. Michigan State was the class of the conference this year. It and Purdue were favored to win the conference in the preseason, while the Illini were expected to attain only second division status. Their accomplishment goes far beyond all expectations except their own.
Conference statistics for all games back up Illinois' position. Senior guard Chester Frazier led the Big 10 in assists with 5.29 per game. He was also third in assist/turnover ratio at 2.41, 8th in steals, and 9th in minutes played.
Demetri McCamey was 3rd in total assists per game at 4.77 and 7th in assist/turnover ratio. Together, Frazier and McCamey helped Illinois lead the conference in total assists at 17.7 per game while leading the nation in assists/baskets made.
Mike Davis led the Big 10 in total rebounds with 7.9 per game. He was first in defensive rebounds while just 13th in offensive rebounds. Mike Tisdale was 4th in field goal percentage at .540 and 5th in blocked shots with 1.81 per game. Trent Meacham was 6th in 3-point shots made and 6th in 3-point field goal percentage.
Penn State's Talor Battle was the scoring champ at 17.9 points a game. No individual Illini came close to that. But owning to the great balance and teamwork of this year's Illini team, four starters were all within 2 points a game of each other.
McCamey led the Illini at 11.9 points a game, good for 17th in the conference. Davis averaged 11.1 and finished tied for 22nd. Tisdale was 24th at 10.8, and Meacham 30th at 9.9.
As a team, the Illini led the Big 10 in scoring defense, giving up only 56.5 points a game. They were seventh in scoring, so their +8.5 scoring differential made them 3rd best in the league. They were 2nd in field goal percentage and 2nd in field goal percentage defense. They were only 8th in 3-point field goal percentage but 1st in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
Illinois won back its fans and played outstanding basketball the entire season. Two aberrant games in no way take away all the good they have accomplished. They now go into the Big 10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament with credentials to back up their confidence and determination.