APTOPIX Illinois Virginia Basketball

Illinois’ Dain Dainja, top, dives over Virginia’s Armaan Franklin, bottom, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:

Illinois has the versatility this season to switch nearly every screen. It's all part of the position-less approach. That said, it's not without its drawbacks. Virginia used the Illini's aggressive switching against them at times, picking its moments when the matchups were more favorable (bigs on guards and vice versa). The Cavaliers were more successful doing so than UCLA was a couple days prior.

Coleman Hawkins recognized that for what it was after the loss to Virginia. The Cavaliers exploited that part of the Illinois defense. But it didn't seem to deter the Illinois junior forward when it comes to what he thinks this team can do at that end of the court.

"Our switching is going to be a problem down the road when we start eliminating mistakes on defense," Hawkins said. "I think we’re going to have the best defensive team in the country."

There were mistakes against Virginia. Not everything can be switched, and the Illini switching some plays that didn't involve a screen got them in trouble against the Cavaliers. It boiled down to communication (or lack thereof).

"Start of the second half I have to call a timeout because we literally don't communicate on something we talked about at halftime," Underwood said. "We knew they'd go to the baseline, and the baseline runner was not a screen so it's not a switch. We were trying to switch it. Not having a shootaround (ahead of the game), you've got to learn some of those things on the fly. That's where experience helps, but a couple of times it was veterans. It was RJ (Melendez) and Coleman and Matt (Mayer) once. You've got to grow from those."

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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