Hill’s improvements key to Illini basketball’s season

By Sean Neumann

In a year when the Illinois basketball team’s depth has been needed, Malcolm Hill has stepped up big.

The sophomore guard has dramatically improved his performance from a year ago, and has done so with senior guard Rayvonte Rice absent from the lineup nine of the last 11 games. Illinois went 6-3 in the senior’s absence.

Hill averaged 4.4 points per game in 35 games last season. Through just 26 games this year, he is averaging 14.7 points and has already more than doubled last season’s output.

Hill has 381 points this season. Last year, he had 154 all season.

“He’s gotten bigger, stronger and more experienced,” Illini head coach John Groce said on Jan. 31. This was minutes after Hill buried a game-winning layup with seconds to go against Penn State. It was his 27th point of the game — one shy of his career-high 28 points he scored in an upset win over No. 11 Maryland.

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“I probably wouldn’t have finished that last year,” Hill said after the game-winner.

The guard has finished plenty of shots this season. Hill has nearly tripled the number of baskets he made a year ago and has raised his field goal percentage by 9 percent. He will likely double his playing time by the end of his sophomore season as well.

Hill’s production has helped the Illini keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, keeping the Illini comfortable at a time when the panic button could have been used.

“We’ve been playing without guys for months now,” point guard Jaylon Tate said after the dramatic Penn State win, as if missing Rice had no effect on Illinois.

With Hill taking charge in the senior’s absence,  it’s difficult to notice any effect at all.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @Neumannthehuman.