Hoosiers need to slow down ‘NBA ready’ Cockburn, Phinisee out again

Big man, big problem.

Seven-foot, 285-pound Kofi Cockburn will be the main focus of the Hoosiers defense when No. 18 Illinois comes to Assembly Hall on Saturday (Noon Eastern, ESPN).

The Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year is averaging 22.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, both career-highs. On Wednesday, Cockburn toasted No. 11 Wisconsin for 37 points and 12 rebounds.

“They milked him until they couldn’t milk him no more, in terms of throwing it into him and him dominating the inside game. I mean, that’s where their strengths are.” said head coach Mike Woodson on Friday of Illinois and Cockburn.

Illinois was able to utilize their center in numerous ways. His strength is on pick-and-rolls where he sets bruising screens on opposing defenders. Then the quick Illinois playmakers can find him underneath the rim for powerful dunks.

His large frame also made it easy to turn the paint into his bunker for the night. In the first half, Cockburn managed to shoot 10-of-12. The Wisconsin frontcourt was overwhelmed by his size and brute physicality.

However, the defensive strategy of the Badgers was puzzling. They did not choose to double team him, and Trayce Jackson-Davis took note of that.

“Kofi is a great player. Obviously, last night (Wednesday) he had a great game. I was surprised Wisconsin didn’t double him that was a little weird to me,” said Jackson-Davis.

Cockburn and Jackson-Davis have faced off three times so far in their collegiate careers. In the last matchup, it was Illinois and Cockburn getting the best of the Hoosiers.

Jackson-Davis outscored Cockburn in the game with 19 points and 14 rebounds but shot just 6-of-18 from the field. However, He could not get any easy layups on the rim protector and even had a couple of them blocked.

Cockburn on the other hand might’ve scored less but was more efficient. He had a double-double also with 10 rebounds and 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting.

The centerpiece of Illinois’ offense averages 15.3 points and 10 rebounds and is 3-0 against Jackson-Davis. Mike Woodson has been letting Jackson-Davis know more of the same is coming his way.

“Coach always talks a little trash about this person is going to do this you, I think some of the guys take it personally,” he said.

While Cockburn is undoubtedly taller and bigger than the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Jackson-Davis, his lateral mobility leaves a chink in his armor.

The Hoosiers preseason All-American will look to get on his launchpad to contest shots and use his mobility against Cockburn.

“Hopefully, I can use my quickness and my athleticism to try and slow him down,” he said.

If all else fails Race Thompson, Michael Durr or even Jordan Geronimo might get a chance to contain the Illini’s leading scorer. They are smaller than Cockburn, but by throwing fresh legs at him, the Hoosiers might be able to tire him out.

“There’s certain things that he likes to do that we’re going to take away from him. We’re going to throw different bigs at him,” said Jackson-Davis.

Against Purdue– who has not just one but two imposing big men– Jackson-Davis was glued to the bench with four fouls. But Durr stepped up to provide a solid defensive performance and limit the Purdue big men.

The seven-footer has not received minutes in the previous two games and played just six minutes against Michigan.

“But this is the game he’s got to be ready,” said Woodson. “That’s all I’m going to tell you, because we’ve got a monster in the middle that somebody’s got to deal with him. So be ready.”

The Hoosiers, however, can’t solely focus on the man clogging up the paint. The Illini rank No. 30 in the nation in three-pointers made per game with 9.4. They are shooting it at a 36.7 percent clip from long range.

Alfonso Plummer and Jacob Grandison are the biggest threats from deep. Plummer is converting on 40 percent of his shots from deep, while Grandison is converting on 43.2 percent. They make around three and two three-pointers per game, respectively.

“They’ve got guys that can make shots,” said Woodson. “And so you’re going to have to deal with both of them (Cockburn and the shooters). I don’t know how you can get around it.”

“So our defensive attackers have just got to be on par in terms of being able to fight him inside. And then we’ve got to scramble to get the shooters. We’ve got to do that as well.”

The former New York Knicks coach knows NBA talent when he sees it. He had high praise for Cockburn and knows that it will be an uphill battle. But he has realized that the Purdue game has prepared his team for the challenge.

“Purdue had the same kind of set up in terms of perimeter play and two big guys. And it was a battle,” said Woodson.

“I mean, Kofi is good. I mean, he’s NBA-ready. That’s kind of how I look at it. And we’re going to have to play him. I mean, you just can’t run from him.”

The Hoosiers have not played since last Saturday when they beat Maryland. They have had plenty of time to game plan for the monumental task at hand, both figural and literal. The team is fresh and ready to play.

“I think we’re itching to play again, so hopefully we come out with high-intensity for the game,” said Jackson-Davis.

Rob Phinisee OUT for Illinois game

The Hoosiers will be without a crucial member of their bench unit on Saturday.

Rob Phinisee will miss his second-straight game. Phinisee suffered an injury while planting his foot on a defensive play in the Penn State game.

“No, Rob will not be available,” claimed Woodson on Friday.

Last week Woodson claimed his status was day-to-day, but now it seems like it could be a longer recovery.

“To be honest, I don’t know when Rob is coming back for a while. He’s got a plantar fasciitis problem. And we’ve got to nurse him back. So, next man up. He won’t be back for this game,” added Woodson.

Xavier Johnson will hold down the lead role as the Hoosiers starting point guard. Khristian Lander could see some extra minutes behind him in place of Phinisee.

Lander saw the court for 10 minutes against Maryland. He scored five points on 2-of-2 shooting with a three-pointer, but also picked up four fouls.

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