Illini getting after it

Illini getting after it

UI among best in country at forcing miscues

CHAMPAIGN — The metrics haven't changed much this season. The Illinois defense continues to do one thing extraordinarily well — force turnovers.

Just more than 23 percent of Illinois' opponents' possessions end in a turnover, ranking the Illini seventh in the country. The top two teams in turnover percentage are, hold your surprise, Illinois coach Brad Underwood's old team still running his system (Stephen F. Austin) and the West Virginia team run by his former boss, Bob Huggins, that goes by "Press Virginia."

Other defensive metrics have also held steady this season. As disruptive as the Illini can be, they rank among the bottom 50 teams in the country in two-point field goal defense and blocked shot percentage. Hence the number of teams that have feasted on layups and dunks this season against an Illinois team still hitting the recruiting trail hard for a rim protector as the backup to the ball pressure out front.

"It's pick your poison," Underwood said. "Either try to force turnovers and have your best post defense kind of be your perimeter defense, or you sit back and double team them and get in rotation constantly and give up threes.

"We've got to (limit shots around the rim) by taking charges, by walling up inside better. We reach too often instead of forcing guys to make layups. It's been a challenge all year, and we know we've been inconsistent. When our perimeter defense is real good, our post defense is good because you can't enter it. That's our philosophy."

Illinois didn't utilize double teams in Thursday night's 93-86 loss against No. 9 Purdue and Isaac Haas, but did have a nearby defender dig at the 7-foot-2, 290-pound center when he got the ball on the block. Haas finished with 10 points on 3 of 4 shooting, and Underwood would have almost preferred him to score more rather than see Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias hit four three-pointers apiece while combining for 58 points.

"Those two guys had their way with us in the first half," Underwood said. "I was ready to let Isaac have whatever he wanted. I didn't want to get beat from the three. When you've got the country's best three-point shooting team, I'd rather give up twos than threes."

Illinois also forced 13 Purdue turnovers Thursday night at State Farm Center. Only two teams — Nebraska on Sunday and Michigan State on Tuesday — have managed to avoid double-digit turnovers against the Illini this season. The Spartans also hold the distinction of being one of three teams, Rutgers and Maryland included, that committed 25 turnovers against Illinois this season. That's a high for the Illini against Division I opponents, while Division III Augustana was forced into 29.

The type of defensive effort Illinois exerts and the ensuing ball pressure applied has been a common talking point among Big Ten coaches after playing the Illini. Purdue's Matt Painter was no different following Thursday's game.

"They play so hard defensively, and they play so different than anybody else that you play," Painter said. "I know they might not have the best record, but those guys compete and they play hard. They get in passing lanes, and they make it difficult. They make you make individual plays. We're just fortunate enough to have probably the best guard in our league (Edwards), who can make individual plays and he did."

Painter has Purdue in the top 10 this season and on its way to a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. He has nine of those in his first 12 seasons with the Boilermakers, but also experienced a downward trend with his 2012-13 and 2013-14 teams both finishing with sub-.500 records and his first team in 2005-06 finishing 9-19 overall and 3-13 in the Big Ten.

"When you're first starting, man, you're just trying to set your foundation," Painter said. "For (Underwood), it's all out playing hard, and it's playing at a level those guys have never played at. If you look at his success at Stephen F. Austin and how they dominated the league, I know it's a different level but it's still hard. They just dominated it with their effort, and they were fun to watch and they took people out of things.

"But it does take time. There's no question about that. It's going to take a little bit of time — whether that's next year or the following year — and you've got to get guys in there that fit how you play."

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Moonpie wrote on February 24, 2018 at 8:02 am

Desperate Dr. Cheerleader is at it again. Woo-hoo--the Ilini are good at creating meaningless turnovers in all those losses. Final Four time, baby.

They only matter if they notched a win.

We. Will. Win..