I think the media gives the impression that Illinois is basically Dee Brown sprinting up and down the court, James Augustine occasionally grabbing a rebound or throwing down an angry dunk, and a bunch of other guys standing around high-fiving. So, for those Husky fans who would prefer a deeper understanding of the upcoming game's dynamics, I will post some facts, observations, and opinions on the Fighting Illini.
First, Illinois is a pretty balanced team overall. They're terrific defensively and improving on offense. Defensively, they play strictly man to man, though they switch fast enough on the perimeter to occasionally resemble a match up zone. They guard close and try to push the ball out to mid-court with pressure. They will step into passing lanes and try to create turnovers. They trap in the halfcourt at times and do so effectively. If your team has any shaky perimeter ball handlers, they may have some issues. The Illinois bigs are solid in the post defensively. Overall, the team plays hard and takes pride in defense--they're very blue collar.
Offensively, the Illini run motion. They run a lot of screen and roll at the top of the key and frequently cut along the baseline behind low screens to get open in the corners; they pass the ball efficiently and tend not to dribble much in their sets. They shoot a lot of threes and hit at a pretty good clip. A few weaknesses: 1. they have some skilled big men, but don't get the ball to the post much at all; 2. they rarely attack the basket. Despite Dee Brown's phenomenal open court speed, he's not much of a penetrator--he's usually content to shoot long threes or whip passes around the perimeter in the halfcourt game.
Dee Brown: I figured starting with Dee seemed appropriate. You may have some misconceptions about him and his game. First, everyone knows he's very fast. He is definitely the fastest guy I've seen in the open court. In the transition game, Dee is unparalleled: if he gets a steal or an outlet pass and has open court ahead of him, he's virtually unstoppable. He scores well on the break and may be the best fastbreak passer in the country--if his teammates run the floor, Dee will set them up perfectly almost every time. Augustine and Randle get quite a few dunks in the transition game off of Dee Brown passes. That said, as previously mentioned Dee does not use his quickness well in the halfcourt game at all. It can be maddening. He'll blow by his defender once or twice and then not try again the rest of the game.
Defensively, Dee is very good. He's extremely quick, uses his hands well, and plays with tenacity. He doesn't gamble on defense, really, and doesn't reach in much; he'll basically adhere himself to the offensive player's chest and give him zero breathing room. Dee gets quite a few steals, but usually from poking the ball loose in one-on-one situations and then beating the offensive player to the loose ball.
On offense, Dee is a very good passer and ball handler. He makes good decisions most of the time and rarely plays out of control. As opposed to what you may expect, Dee isn't much of a hot dog. He actually plays almost conservatively. His flashy plays usually come on the break, or when he's feeling his shot he'll occasionally shoot 30-foot 3-pointers. His shooting percentages this year are deceiving, too. He's a very good shooter, actually, but very much a rhythm shooter; this year, he's had to shoot off the dribble a lot, which he's not especially good at. Also, many of his misses have been bail out shots at the end of the shot clock. Point of interest: he has remarkable range on his shot; he can shoot from 27-28 feet effortlessly and will hit plenty of those if the defense lays off him.
James Augustine: Illinois' other senior and pretty much the only other name anyone knows on the team. Augustine is 6'10, 235, kind of lanky, but relatively strong. He's extremely athletic: he runs the floor like a guard, jumps well, and is a fluid all-around athlete. Actually, I don't think most people give him enough credit athletically (at least on a national level); in my opinion, he runs the floor better than any other big man at the college level.
Offense: Augustine has a nice lefty baby hook, which is his go-to move in the post; he is active in the paint and often works his way free for easy baskets; he attacks the offensive glass well; he runs a little pick-and-pop play frequently and can hit jumpers out to 17 feet or so with regularity. Augustine can shoot pretty well out to 19 feet if left alone and can put the ball on the floor a little (though he sometimes gets happy feet when dribbling). Overall, he's a skilled offensive player. He passes well, sets great screens, has a good feel for the halfcourt game, can shoot jump shots, and has a fairly smooth post game. However, when you watch him, he looks like he should average about 17-18 a game, but he only gets 12-13. This is because, as any Illini fan will tell you, Augustine does not assert himself offensively. He doesn't play soft exactly; he just doesn't feel comfortable demanding the ball and taking shots.
Defense: Augustine is an above-average defender due to his length and athleticism. He will often guard small forwards and even occasionally shooting guards for brief stretches. Because of his quickness, Weber uses him to trap on the perimeter (because Augustine can recover to the post when the trap is broken). He's not a great shot blocker, but he's pretty good, and he gets quite a few steals for his position. Several times over the past two years, Augustine has stolen the ball on the perimeter and taken it the length of the court to finish (it looks strange to see a PF/C dribbling the ball down the court on his own). If Randle fouls out guarding Roy, I wouldn't be surprised to see Augustine on him for stretches (probably rotating with Rich McBride). This wouldn't be a good thing for Illinois, but it speaks to Augustine's defensive versatility.
Rich McBride: McBride is a solid player who makes sound decisions most of the time. He's a very good outside shooter, but relies too heavily on the 3-pointer at times. He can put the ball on the floor and will occasionally. He's not very quick, but he's strong and just athletic enough to avoid being a liability. He's a solid defender and a pretty good passer. He was a top-30 recruit out of high school and was regarded by many as the best scoring guard in his class. However, he's developed chronic foot problems; he wasn't a great athlete to begin with, but now he's lost the explosiveness he had and is probably below-average athletically at this level. Still, a good all-around player. He can burn you when he's feeling it.
Brian Randle: Probably the best athlete in the Big Ten. He's 6'8 and jumps like Tigger. Randle is a graceful athlete who plays hard and does a lot of little things. He can guard the 1-4 and probably a lot of collegiate fives, as well. He rebounds well, is Illinois' best defender, and passes and handles the ball decently. He's also an honor student, a great kid, and a captain (along with Dee and Augustine). What Randle cannot do: shoot. He's okay from 12 feet or so, but beyond that--yuck. Illinois fans have a suspicion that if Randle learns to shoot, he could be a lottery pick. I'm not big on comparisons, but someone said to me that Randle reminded them of Shawn Marion; that's pretty accurate (though Marion, despite his alarming form, shoots much better). Oh, Randle also has a tendency to pick up idiotic fouls. He'll almost certainly guard BRoy and will probably foul out with at least 6:00 left in the game. Roy will probably still abuse him to some extent, but Randle should be the best defender Roy has seen this year.
Shaun Pruitt: Pruitt is a big guy with decent athleticism and terrific post moves. He's a true back-to-the-basket player, has good touch, several moves underneath, and excellent footwork. He's really been coming on lately. He rebounds well and defends adequately. He's 6'10, about 250, and very strong. With the size of your frontline, Pruitt could do some damage in the post. Despite his scoring average (6.3), he really scores well down low.
Jamar Smith: Shoots 50% on three pointers. Has the quickest release I've ever seen--probably quicker than Ray Allen, who has the quickest release I can think of in the NBA. I think it was in one of the regular season games against Michigan State, Jamar caught the ball at his waist while moving and released it in one fluid motion so quickly, his defender was still gathering to jump and contest. His shot is so pure and effortless, it makes your jaw drop at times. I would put him, just as a shooter, on par with JJ Redick or Salim Stoudamire. He's also a pretty good athlete (Weber said earlier this year that he's probably our third best dunker behind Randle and Calvin Brock). The bad: he plays like a freshman--he gets lost at times on the court, forgets to move in the motion offense, and struggles with team defense. Overall, I believe he could be a 20 ppg college scorer and an NBA player someday, but for now he's our 4th or 5th option.
Warren Carter: A bit of an enigma. Carter is 6'9 with long arms and very good athleticism. He can really run and jump, has a decent jump shot, has good touch around the basket, rebounds well, has good shot blocking instincts, and doesn't play much at all. Why? Well, he struggles with both team and man defense, sometimes loses focus, doesn't always hustle (though he's doing better with that), and doesn't move enough on offense. However, he seems to really want to do these things. From all accounts he's a great kid, a great teammate, and a pretty hard worker--he just hasn't had that moment where everything snaps into place on the court. Even though he hasn't done much yet and is a junior, some still believe he has pro potential because of his offensive abilities and NBA-level athleticism.
Marcus Arnold: Transfer from Illinois State. Underwhelming athlete and not a great defender. Foul-collecting machine. However, has some offensive skill and a big body. Streaky player: seems to get into grooves where he scores effectively and plays smart; other times, looks out of place on a D-1 court.
Chester Frazier: Freshman point guard. Very quick, relentless, aggressive. Has a strong build. Pretty much the only guy on the team who consistently tries to penetrate. Plays tough defense and hustles all the time. Everyone loves this kid because of his attitude. When he comes in, Dee often moves to the wing, where he can really fill it up.
Calvin Brock: You probably won't see him. Phenomenal athlete--possibly a better pure athlete than Brian Randle. Has ridiculous hang time when he jumps. Plays SG/SF and has pretty good size at 6'5. Can't really handle the ball, shoot, or pass, unfortunately, which limits his contribution to the team.
That's pretty comprehensive, I think. Other points of interest: we start three lefties (Augustine, Randle, and Pruitt); Dee Brown graduated in December (in 3 and a half years) and had better than a 3.0 gpa; Jamar Smith was an unheralded 3-star recruit; Augustine is actually caucasian (people have guessed that he's part black, part Asian, and lots of bizarre combinations); Randle would have been the 6th man on last year's team, but broke his hand in the preseason; Jamar Smith is tied for fourth in the country in 3-pt FG% (and has made at least 18 more threes than anyone ahead of him).
Also, I have to let you know that I think Brandon Roy is the best player in the country and it's not even that close.
Publisher's Note: THANK YOU to Gregory Buttera (AKA: "thedorian") for this informative post.
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