Biggest Big Ten basketball questions
Will Illinois’ shooting improve?
Illinois, despite being a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team, ranked as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation last season. The Illini clearly knew their weakness: the team had a 3-point attempt rate of 30.6% (312th nationally) thanks in large part to shooting just 30.3 percent when they did let loose from beyond the arc. In order for Coach Underwood’s team to take the next leap into national title contention this season, the unit needs to be much better at perimeter shooting.
Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are stars, but it is hard to imagine either taking another substantial leap if the spacing stays below-average. This is where freshman Adam Miller is expected to make a big impact while transfers Austin Hutchison and Jacob Grandison should be solid additions as well. Perhaps most notably, though, senior guard Trent Frazier needs to experience a resurgence. Frazier shot just 30.9 percent from last season after shooting 40.6 percent as a sophomore.
How Improved will Iowa’s defense be?
Speaking of glaring holes in Big Ten title contenders, Iowa’s defense needs to take a big step forward this season. With the program essentially “running it back” for this season, all of these improvements will need to come internally. It’s hard to imagine a giant leap on the defensive end but that is what will be necessary for the Hawkeyes to live up to the preseason Top 10 label that many prognosticators have stuck on them.
I’m just not sure how their offense gets *better* from already being one of the best in the nation (5th AdjO in 2019-20). As a result, it is up to their defense to help them take the next step. The Hawkeyes ranked 97th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency a year ago, and it isn’t just one thing that needs to be fixed. They didn’t defend the paint well, they didn’t force turnovers, they allowed a ton of ball-movement, they didn’t defensively rebound, etc. There are lots of areas for defensive improvement and hopefully, they take those steps. If they do, this is a title contender.
I’d love to be optimistic, but Iowa has only boasted a Top 50 defense three times in Fran McCaffery’s 10 seasons with the program, and none since 2016.