Inside the numbers: 16 Big Ten wins, Kofi’s field-goal percentage highlight unusual season

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Ryan Ash The Daily Illini

Sophomore Kofi Cockburn shoots a free throw during the game against Purdue on Jan. 2. Cockburn shot 54.1% from the free-throw line during regular-season Big Ten play.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Despite an unprecedented and unpredictable season, the Illini have lived up to their preseason hype and proven that they are one of the top teams in the country. Head coach Brad Underwood inherited an underperforming program in 2017 and has since turned things around, as the Illini are back on the national stage where they belong.
Illinois looks to continue its winning ways next week and beyond, with the entire team playing some of its best basketball all season. Let’s take a deep dive into some notable numbers with the NCAA tournament around the corner.

2013

For the first time since 2013 — and the first time under Underwood — the Illini will be dancing in March. Led by junior guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn, Illinois looks like the real deal, as it brings intense defense and lights-out shooting every game.
The last time the Illini made the tournament they received an at-large bid and were a 7-seed in the competition. In his senior season, star guard Brandon Paul led all scorers with 17 points, and Illinois took down Colorado to advance to the second round, where it lost to 2-seed Miami by four points.
The historic 2005 team was the last Illini squad to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and this year’s squad looks hungry to make it much farther in this season’s tournament.

20, 6, 5

After announcing he would be returning for a third season, Dosunmu has exceeded already lofty expectations, as he is the first player in the last 11 seasons to average 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Chicago native is a Swiss Army knife, as he’s essentially unstoppable when driving to the rim, aggressive on the boards and selfless with the ball, always looking to find a teammate for an open trey or Cockburn, his partner in crime, at the rim.
Though he was not named the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, Dosunmu has certainly left his mark on Champaign and this Illini program, and his jersey will deservedly hang in the rafters after he heads to the NBA following the team’s run in the NCAA tournament.

66.4%

When Cockburn gets the ball in the paint, he’s dominant and brushes off defenders. He converts 66.4% of his field goals — free throws are a different story — and has made Big Ten centers look weak on countless occasions.
There are few big men who can match Cockburn’s size and strength, and in matchups with Iowa’s Luka Garza and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson this season, the Illinois sophomore has won the battle.
After shooting 53.2% from the field last season, the Jamaica native has brought a whole new level to his play so far this year, and he’s one of the biggest reasons why the Illini have been so dominant in Big Ten play.

68.8%

After shooting 72.8% from the free-throw line last season and ranking 111th in the country, the Illini have gotten worse this year. The team shot 68.8% from the line during regular-season Big Ten play, the fourth-worst percentage among teams in the conference.
Cockburn got to the line more than anyone on the Illini, yet he shot a dismal 54.1% from the line during the team’s 20 conference games. Free throws have been anything but free for the big man, which is even more of an issue when he takes an average of around seven free throws per game.

16

The Illini’s 16 regular-season Big Ten wins are the most in program history, eight of which happened at State Farm Center. The eight away wins are also impressive, as Illinois beat Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State on the road in the last three regular-season games of the year.
Though fans were not in the stands at any Big Ten regular-season games, the Illini got the job done regardless of their opponent or location while, in the process, making history. Look out for the Illini in March, and don’t be surprised when they are still playing in April.

0

While fans may not like it, here’s the number of NCAA tournament championship titles the Illini have won. With selfless guard play from Dosunmu and freshman Andre Curbelo, clutch 3-point shooting from Trent Frazier and Adam Miller, dominance in the paint from Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili and rebounding aggressiveness from Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison, the Illini are a force to be reckoned with.
With intense defense and a high-paced offense, any team should be worried about a potential meeting with Illinois come the NCAA tournament, as it has proved game in, game out that it is one of the best all-around teams in the country.

@JacksonJanes3

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