The Illinois Fighting Illini (1-1) battled through a horrible first half to escape with a 80-74 victory over the North Dakota State Bison (1-1) at the Prairie Capital Convention Center on Sunday. Mike Thorne Jr. was Illinois' leading scorer with 21 points, and Jalen Coleman-Lands followed suit with 15 points of his own.
Here are some of my takeaways from the game:
1. Illinois' defense is so, so bad
I've got some really bad news for you, Illini fans. Unless Illinois' defense shows drastic improvement very soon, they're going to have a hard time beating anyone on their schedule. And holy shit is the defense bad. After giving up 93 points to North Florida on Friday, 74 points allowed doesn't seem all that bad, but it was truly hard to watch for most of the afternoon.
Illinois started out in man-to-man, but it wasn't long before John Groce abandoned that strategy because his players couldn't say in front of anyone. Things weren't much better after switching to a zone. The Bison seemed to be confusing the Illini with simple dribble handoffs, cuts, and passes. To their credit, though, adjustment were made at halftime and the North Dakota State attack was at least slowed down for the rest of the game; hopefully we see more of that going forward.
2. Illinois' post offense is much improved
Here's a positive! Illinois' post presence on offense has actually been very good through two games. Mike Thorne Jr. is getting a majority of the attention -- and rightfully so -- but the Illini have some other nice options at the ready. Maverick Morgan (!!) went for 10 points and 5 rebounds today, and he's been an all-around great surprise. Redshirt-freshman Michael Finke has also provided some consistent play when called upon. This doesn't even include Leron Black, who's still clearly struggling with his knee injury.
3. Kris Dunn is going to kill Illinois on Wednesday
Illinois will travel to Rhode Island on Wednesday to face off against Providence in the new Big Ten vs. Big East Challenge. The Friars -- currently ranked No. 56 on KenPom -- appear to be a somewhat average team, but senior point guard Kris Dunn is the best player in the country and he'll be a top NBA Draft pick next year.
That's, uh, not good if you're Illinois. Jeremy Werner summed up the problem perfectly:
Freedom of movement does not help these Illini. No dynamic PG, no one to defend a PG.— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) November 15, 2015