Illinois finished the basketball season with a one point loss at Clemson on Sunday. It was a painful gain to watch: open shots, plenty of chances, but the ball just would not go in. 14% from three and 37.5% from the field doesn’t get you many wins. It was the type of offensive performance we’ve grown accustomed to this year.
If you look at the gross stats on ESPN, you’ll see the Illini ranked in the bottom quarter of all Division I schools for points per game (64.6 points, ranked 311). There are a few good teams that score that little, a very few, but the remaining teams in the NCAA Tourney all score more. Illinois shot 40.9% from the field (320th) and 31.9% from three (293rd), still in the bottom quarter to bottom third of all teams. In assists, we were 10.1 per game, good for 330th, which is bottom 10%. There are lots of other statistics that measure tempo, offensive efficiency per possession, etc., but bottom line, this was a bad offensive team. Hopefully we won’t see worse offense in many years to come.
The real question: how did this team actually manage to win 20 games and make it to the post-season? Defense, obviously, and grit and toughness. When Nike unveils their rebrand concept soon, they damned well better place ‘FIGHTING’ above the ‘ILLINI’ on the basketball jerseys. And yes, this toughness and sound defense can keep you in a lot of games, even allow you to steal a few. You can build an identity around ‘Fighting’. This last game against Clemson, for example: Clemson shot close to 50% and out-rebounded Illinois, and yet we were one better possession the final minute away from stealing that game at the end.