Coming off a Big Ten Tournament title, Illinois has national championship aspirations. The Fighting Illini are balanced ranking top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Furthermore, Illinois’ offense has been humming in the month of March. They are led by two outstanding All-Americans, which both average over 17 points. Illinois appears to be the second best team in the country right now. Can the Fighting Illini win March Madness?
Illinois is led by an imposing offense averaging 81.4 points per game. Also, they are seventh in offensive efficiency. With the third strongest strength of schedule, the Fight Illini offensive stats are very impressive. In addition Illinois shares the ball well averaging 16.3 assists.
Further, Illinois is an efficient offense ranking sixth in field goal percentage at the mark of 49.9%. The Fighting Illini have an effective field goal percentage of 55.6%. Ranked 12th, Illinois makes 29.4 field goals per contest. As a team, the Fighting Illini are not a great three point shooting team. However, they do have the nation’s leading three point shooter Da’ Monte Williams who shoots 56.5% from three.
Andre Curbelo is a freshman guard that might be emerging at the right time. On the season, Curbelo averages 9.1 points while shooting 49.3%. Of course, these stats are good for a freshman. However, he has elevated his play averaging 14.7 points while shooting 52.3% in his last six games. Curbelo is another ball-handling guard that can score in bunches. This only makes the Illinois offense more difficult to slow down.
Led by All-Americans
Illinois might have star power comparable to Gonzaga. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are some of the best players in college basketball. In addition, Dosunmu and Cockburn are a fantastic guard and center duo.
Dosunmu averages 20.7 points, 5.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds. He is the only player in the country with a 20-5-5 average. Also, he is efficient shooting 48.8% and 38.7% from three. Dosunmu can completely take over games on the offensive end. He has four games in which he scored 30 or more points this season. The outstanding guard was recently named a First Team All-American and the USA Today Sports’ Player of the Year.
— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) March 17, 2021
Cockburn is a matchup nightmare standing at 7-foot and weighing 285 points. He is a bruising force in the paint, and most teams do not have the size to matchup with him. Cockburn is top five in double-doubles averaging 17.6 points while corralling 9.6 rebounds per game. Additionally, the Fighting Illini center scores more often than not by shooting 65.5%. Cockburn was recently named a Second Team All-American.
Fighting Illini Outlook
Illinois will be the favorite to come out of the Midwest region. They are a No.1 seed and have a favorable region with Houston as a two seed and West Virginia as a three seed. The Round of 64 should be fairly easy considering they will play a sixteen seed. However, the Round of 32 could be difficult if they play the eight seed Loyola-Chicago. The No.8 seed is 9th in Kenpom with the best defense in the country. In addition, Loyola-Chicago plays perhaps the slowest pace in the nation. If Loyola-Chicago controls the pace of play, this will limit Illinois’ possessions. In turn, the game could turn into a defensive slugfest.
On the contrary, Illinois excels on the defensive end ranking fifth, so they should win this matchup still. Oklahoma State could be another possible dangerous team in the Sweet Sixteen. If Illinois reaches an Elite Eight drawing Houston or West Virginia is not too bad. Houston is a really good defensive team, but they may not have the size to stop Cockburn. Overall, Illinois has a good chance to make the Final Four. Going through a team like Gonzaga for a national title will not be easy. They can surely beat Gonzaga, but it would take one historic effort.
All stats courtesy of ESPN, Kenpom, NCAA and Team Rankings.