Keys to Turning Around the 2014 Fighting Illini Basketball Season
My, how the season has changed for the Fighting Illini. After beginning the season at 11-2 in nonconference play and opening Big Ten play with two wins, the Illini have since dropped six straight to Big Ten opponents, most recently a disappointing 56-46 loss to archrival Indiana in Bloomington.
The Illini must right their season immediately if they hope to reach any postseason play, which is a tall task given their upcoming schedule. Illinois heads back to Champaign to face off against No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Wisconsin before heading back on the road.
Here, we look at the Illini's keys to turning around their 2014 season.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.
5. Cut Down on 3-Pointers
The Illini shot 5-of-23 from three-point range at Indiana on Sunday, with Rayvonte Rice contributing four baskets from beyond the arc. Excluding Rice, the Illini were 1-of-16 from three-point range.
No, seriously. You read that right. That's 6.25 percent from three-point range.
It's not the first time that Illinois has struggled. The Illini shot only 11.7 from three-point range in their previous matchup against Indiana on Dec. 31.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, something is clearly broken on the Fighting Illini's three-point machine. Illinois is shooting 31 percent on the season from three-point range. Only Northwestern is shooting worse (29.3 percent), who defeated the Illini in their only matchup in an ugly game in Evanston on January 12.
4. Draw More Fouls
Cutting down on those three-pointers could also result in more drives to the hoop, which could in turn result in drawing more fouls. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in free throws attempted at 18.8 per game.
Fewer missed three-pointers plus more trips to the charity stripe should equal more points for the Illini, who rank ahead of only Nebraska and Northwestern in points per game in the Big Ten.
3. Consistently Rebound the Ball
The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in defensive rebounds per game at 23.6, a bad mark for a team that's ahead of only Northwestern in field-goal percentage.
Though Illinois is ranked fourth in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game, the Illini grabbed only four offensive rebounds in their loss to Indiana on Saturday.
With such a low shooting percentage, Illinois must find a way to put back more of its own shots while more importantly finally beginning to consistently box out opponents.
2. Pull Off a Surprise Victory
As mentioned earlier, the Illini have a tough schedule coming up. However, a solid performance against Iowa and Wisconsin could be just the fulcrum that Illinois needs. After their matchups against the No. 10 and No. 9 teams in the country, the Illini have two winnable games on the road in Penn State (who they defeated convincingly at home on Jan. 4) and Nebraska.
Both Penn State and Nebraska are must-win games for the Illini, and an upset against either Wisconsin or Iowa would do a world of good for the orange and blue.
1. Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand
As of late, senior Joseph Bertrand and juniors Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams have struggled to play consistently. Egwu went 0-of-7 and 0-of-3 in the Illini's losses to Purdue and Michigan State, respectively.
Bertrand has also struggled lately, going 2-of-11 from the field in their loss to Northwestern and 1-of-11 in the loss at Indiana.
Junior guard Tracy Abrams has been even more troublesome, shooting below 30 percent in five of the Illini's past seven games.
With such a young team, the Illini are in dire need of consistent production from Bertrand, Egwu and Abrams.