Illinois was a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. It was able to rise up and play great at times, but it struggled at other times. There was little consistency of performance, leading to losses to weak teams and upsets of top teams. Illini coach Bruce Weber searched in vain all season to find a magic formula that would give his team an edge.
Statistics are not always reliable explanations for a season, but they tend to back up the results this year. The Illini had some individuals as conference leaders, but their team results were mixed at best.
Demetri McCamey, a first team All-Big 10 selection, was the team leader in four categories. He was the leading scorer at 14.9 per game, he had more than three times as many assists as any teammate, and his 38 steals led the team. He also had more than twice as many turnovers as any other player, not surprising since the ball was in his hands most of the time.
Mike Tisdale averaged 11.6 points a game on the season, followed by Mike Davis and D.J. Richardson at 10.3 (Davis scored one more point on the year), Brandon Paul at 8.1, Dominique Keller at 4.7 and Bill Cole at 4.6. Tisdale shot a lofty .570. He and Tyler Griffey (.532 in limited attempts) were the only Illini over .469.
Cole shot the best percentage from the three point line for the Illini at .391. He was even better in Big 10 games, ranking second in the conference at .442. Richardson was a close second in all games at .390, but he was much better in nonconference play. Illinois shot 33.1% from three in the conference.
As expected, Mike Davis led the team in rebounding at 8.8 for all games, 8.2 in Big 10 play. For the second year in a row he finished 2nd in conference rebounding, this time to Ohio State's Evan Turner. The only other Illini to average more than 3.3 rebounds a game was Tisdale, who came in at 6.1 per contest.
Tisdale was the runaway leader in blocked shots with 51. He tied with Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III for third in conference games with 27 blocks. Cole and Davis also figured in the top 15 in conference blocks, Cole ending 11th and Davis tied for 13th. As a team, the Illini were among the league leaders, finishing third.
McCamey finished 9th in the league in scoring, Tisdale was 17th and Richardson 29th. Tisdale lost out to Raymar Morgan of Michigan State for the field goal percentage crown.
Illini were also among the leaders in rebounding and assists. Besides Davis, Tisdale ended 11th in rebounding. And McCamey led the conference in assists, nearly 2 assists per game ahead of anyone else. Due to his high number of turnovers, he was only third in assist/turnover ratio. No other Illini made the top 16 in assists.
Tisdale shot free throws at an impressive .824 clip in Big 10 play, good for 5th in the league. No other Illini were in the top 15. Richardson was 9th in 3-point field goals made, and McCamey was 13th. No Illini players were among the top 15 in steals, an indication of defensive weaknesses.
Comparisons with other Big 10 teams shows why the Illini finished fifth in conference play. The Illini were 6th in scoring offense, 7th in scoring margin, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, 3-point field goals made and 3-point field goal percentage. They were fourth in assists but 7th in turnover margin and 6th in assist/turnover ratio.
Defensively, they led the league in field goal percentage defense and were third in 3-point percentage defense, surprising statistics given Weber's admission this was not a good defensive team. They were 6th in scoring defense, 11th in rebounding defense, 6th in rebounding margin, third in blocked shots, and 9th in steals. They were first in defensive rebounds, another surprise, but they were 6th in offensive rebounding.
Illinois was below average in a number of categories, but a few positive categories moved them into fifth place in the conference. It was not what Illini Nation hoped. But given the nature of the team, the lack of leadership, ball handling and inside power, fifth was probably as good as they could do.