Illinois basketball currently has one of the most fun players I have ever seen suit up for the Orange and Blue.
No, I am not talking about Ayo Dosunmu, who currently leads the team in scoring. No, I am not talking about Kofi Cockburn, who leads the team in rebounds. The player I am talking about doesn’t even start for the Illini. Who is this player?
Curbelo displayed his talents once again on Friday in Illinois’ 80-75 win over No. 7 Iowa. Throughout the game, there were calls on social media for Curbelo to calm down or reel it in a bit. I think I have even said that one or two times earlier this year. I am here to counter those rumblings, though.
I don’t believe Curbelo should change at all.
Are Curbelo’s turnovers sometimes head-scratching? Sure, he can get into the lane or up in the air without a plan and turn the ball over. This happens a couple of times per game.
But this is what happens when you have a wizard like Curbelo handling the ball. While he does turn the ball over sometimes, his ability to distribute the ball far outweighs his turnovers. In fact, he is one of the big reasons why Illinois is such an efficient team.
Illinois has a 1.279 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. They rank No. 41 in the nation in this statistical category. Last season, they only had a 1.068 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranked No. 101 in the nation.
A large part of the improved assist-to-turnover ratio is what Curbelo has done this season. He alone has a 1.804 assist-to-turnover ratio. This is just outside the top 100 nationally. Guess what, Curbelo is only a true freshman. The 16 games he has played this season are his first 16 games at the college level.
Curbelo continues to grow each game. While he is averaging a solid 4.6 assists per game this season, over the past 10 games he is averaging 5.7 assists per game. In that same timeframe, Curbelo has also carried a 2.478 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is even better than his season average.
I believe the talented guard is starting to get a nice mid-range game going too. Curbelo is building on the number of tools he has in his arsenal. When he gets into the lane, he used to just kick the ball out when defenses collapse. Now he has the ability to find the open man or hit the mid-range fadeaway. It is really a thing of beauty.
While there are times Curbelo can get a little crazy and the ball goes flying out of bounds or to the other team, the good far outweighs the bad with him. He is getting thrown into the fire and this is the best way for him to learn.
Let’s not pull back the reins on this wild horse. Curbelo needs to run wild. This is when he is at his best. He is extremely smart and will create plays for the Illini. We haven’t seen a point guard like Curbelo come through Champaign in a very, very long time. When it is all said and done, he is going to rewrite many records in the Illinois record book.