Covering the Land of Lincoln

Illinois looks to bounce back

Dec 29—CHAMPAIGN—Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood is a big believer in analytics.

Much like baseball, Underwood believes that statistics can tell you a lot about how a team is playing.

So, what has the numbers said about the past two weeks?

Since an overtime victory against second-rated Texas at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Illini have suffered double-digit losses to Penn State and Missouri sandwiched around a hard-fought win over Alabama A&M.

“Look at our numbers on the defensive side and they are fantastic,” he said. “We are in an elite status in terms of half-court defense.”

But that doesn’t tell the full story.

“We have one area that we are really bad and that’s transition defense and that’s coming from our offensive side,” Underwood said. “We can’t turn the ball over like we’ve been… it’s really hard to guard layups and open 3s. Those stem from not running offense and putting up quick shots.

“Recently, we have taken a lot of shots with 18, 19 or 20 seconds on the shot clock that are contested. Instead of being patient enough to allow the defense to make a mistake.”

In each of the last three games, Illinois has scored less than 75 points and it has had a scoring drought of at least five minutes.

“We’ve just gotta execute,” said Illinois senior Terrence Shannon Jr., who is the only Illinois averaging double digits at 18.2 points per game. “Coach calls a play or tells us to do something, we have to do it. We haven’t been executing an offense. It’s been stagnant. It’s been a lot of isolation ball. And we just gotta get better with running the offense and the stuff we do in practice.”

Underwood indicated that most of the changes on the offensive end are simple tweaks within the system, but he is going to hold guys accountable.

“Mistakes are to the point now, where guys may have to go to the bench and learn that way,” he said.

Story continues

The Illini, who took the NCAA mandated three days off over Christmas, are hoping to show a little progress in their final non-conference contest tonight at the State Farm Center against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, who have suffered big losses to Iowa (89 -58) and Indiana (101-49) earlier this season.

“They are a team that plays a lot of road games,” said Underwood as Bethune-Cookman will be playing 10th game away from Daytona Beach, Fla.

Underwood noted that the Wildcats have really good guards including senior Marcus Garrett, a former standout at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, who averages 14.0 points a game. Bethune-Cookman is coached by former NBA great Reggie Theus.

“I have a lot of respect for Reggie,” said Underwood, noting that this is the third time he has faced a Theus-coached team.

Tonight’s game is set for a 7:30 pm tipoff.

The game can be seen on Fox Sports 1 and heard on the Illini Sports Network including Danville stations WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.

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