Now that we've examined the Big Ten as a whole for offensive and defensive trends, we'll start going team-by-team. First up, Illinois. Coincidentally, this five year period covers the entirety of Bruce Weber's career in Champaign. As always, the most important trend is the overall team quality, measured by national Pomeroy rank:
Illinois had great success in Weber's first three seasons, including the run to the National Title game in 2005. The team has seen a drop-off since, but still has yet to finish outside of Pomeroy's top 40 under Weber. This season may very well be a test of that run.
Here's the efficiency components that go into the Pomeroy rating (offense in blue, defense in pink):
Clearly, Illinois' drop-off has come primarily on the offensive end as the defense has remained solid. The 2007 Illini managed to win ugly with one of the nation's best defenses. 2008 saw a marginally improved offense, but Illinois couldn't maintain that outstanding defense (not to mention their awful "Luck," which we'll examine in a later post). I do feel that this year's squad will be better offensively, but the defense (especially defensive rebounding) doesn't look to be as solid as in years past.
One of the major components of offensive efficiency is making shots, measured by eFG%:
Illinois has been remarkably consistent at forcing opponents to miss. On the other side, the shooting in Champaign has been headed steeply downhill ever since that great 2005 squad. I do expect the shooting to improve this season, but how much will be a big determinant of whether Illinois manages to be a bubble NCAA team or not.
Another increasing problem for the Illinois offense has been turnovers:
Illinois crossed the threshold last season of committing more turnovers than they forced - a dangerous place to be. Again, I expect offensive improvement in this area - a sophomore Demetri McCamey should be much better at PG than last year's combination of Chester Frazier and a freshman McCamey. Just keeping the ball out of Frazier's hands should help immensely in this regard.
As far as forcing turnovers, I'm not sure how to explain the big drop-off from 2007 to 2008; neither Warren Carter nor Rich McBride were seen as guys that would force a lot of turnovers, although both were solid defenders. It could be that the influx of newcomers forced Weber to focus more on position defense and less on pressure defense.
Next, a consistent strength at Illinois, rebounding:
This is a chart that could look very different after the 2008-09 season. As discussed in our Illinois preview, rebounding might be the main concern for Weber's team this year, and will likely make the difference between a good season and a mediocre one.
As we'll see in the next graph, this is a bit misleading. Remember, when we talk about an offensive FTR, we generally mean free throws made per 100 field goals attempted. Illinois was actually getting to the line more as of late, but simply was not taking advantage.
There's perhaps no better graph that illustrates the frustrations in Champaign than this one. Two point and three point shooting is partially dependent upon teammates setting up open looks, or defense leading to easy buckets, etc. But this one is all about skill. It's just a shooter and 13 feet, and Illinois has not had very good shooters in recent years.
No surprise here. As worse shooters replace better ones in Champaign, shooting is going to suffer all over the place. With the return of McCamey and Trent Meacham, as well as the injection of Alex Legion, this figures to improve.
More of the same - the Illini defense has held steady, and even improved in recent years. But the offense has really suffered.
Don't let the spike fool you - Illinois has not been a great shot-blocking team in the past five seasons. Even in 06-07, this team ranked a mere 144th in the nation. However, the Block% numbers of Illinois' returning big men give them hope this might improve:
Like blocks, this is another area where Illinois does not generally excel. However, notice that the superior guard play in 04-05 led to an uptick in steals, as well as a decline in opponent steals.
Illinois has generally been a POT (perimeter oriented team) under Bruce Weber, but that tendency fell off last season to a more average distribution. Given the Illini's shooting woes, that was a good move.
Although this stat is of limited value for judging team quality, it is descriptive of style. Weber's teams share the sugar quite a bit, none more than the stellar 04-05 team.
So, overall, the Illini have shown great consistency in rebounding and defense over the past 5 seasons. Their overall team success has been determined by the quality of the offense, which has been pretty bad as of late. It will be interesting to see if Bruce Weber can put an improved offense on the floor this season without damaging the sacred cows of defense and rebounding. If nothing else, the Illini should be a more entertaining team this year, if not a better one.
Next up, the team whose five year trends have basically no relevance to the upcoming season - Indiana.