The 24th-ranked Illini have all week to prepare for a 4 p.m. home tip on Saturday against Northwestern at State Farm Center in Champaign. So beat writer SCOTT RICHEY analyzes four other areas besides the AP poll where Illinois finds itself in the Top 25 in the country:
Kofi Cockburn was on a torrid double-double pace to start the season with five in his first six games. His seventh in Saturday’s win against Rutgers gave him the all-time Illini freshman record. It also ranks him fourth among freshmen this season behind Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart and Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr.
It’s a three-way tie for plays Brad Underwood values the most among passing, charge taking and offensive rebounding. The last of those is where the Illini have shined this season, ranking fifth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of available offensive boards they grab). Both Cockburn and Alan Griffin are top 100 individually.
The shift in Illinois’ defensive scheme this season was notable. While the Illini might not be forcing as many turnovers, their overall defense is significantly better. Teams don’t just run a layup line against Illinois these days. They also don’t get to the free-throw line nearly as often, as the Illini rank eighth nationally in defensive free throw rate per KenPom.
Where the Illini’s latest recruiting class finds itself in the national rankings, per 247Sports. Underwood has been able to stack four-star talent, following up Ayo Dosunmu and Cockburn with one of the top 2020 guard duos in Andre Curbelo (signed) and Adam Miller (committed) to go with athletic stretch 4 Coleman Hawkins.