Brad Underwood, coach of the Fighting Illini, is in familiar territory.
Last season, Underwood and his Oklahoma State squad opened their conference slate with an 0-6 start. They finished their remaining schedule 10-4 en route to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, so this is nothing new for Illinois’ fist-year head coach.
Underwood knows where this team stands. He understands the talent and the potential these players possess, yet heartbreak has followed this team through almost every Big Ten game this season.
So what does Underwood and company need to do in order to find a way to end the agony, not only for the players and staff but the fans as well?
The staple of the Underwood defensive era has been its ability to force turnovers. If you peruse Twitter, some fans love this defensive style Underwood implements. Some, more vocally, despise it.
Part of the giveaway that this stifling defense has is that when you play tight pressure defense, you leave guys open since your players collapse on the ball handler. This works great, in theory, for forcing turnovers. Illinois currently owns the sixth best turnover margin in the NCAA, coming in at a whopping 18.16 turnovers forced per game.
Against Nebraska, Illinois only forced 10 for the entire game. If you add a couple more to that total, perhaps the Illini walk away victorious in Lincoln.
Against Wisconsin, Illinois needs to find ways to force the Badgers into mistakes. Wisconsin is averaging under 15 turnovers per game over its last three contests, so the Illini will need to continue that trend in Madison.
Own The Glass
Illinois’ size has been a concern all season long. However, as surprising as it may be, Illinois is in the top 10 nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and the Illini have been assisted by the second-chance opportunities.
I would like to see Michael Finke continue his performance from the Nebraska game, where he pulled down five offensive boards against a good interior team.
If the Illini are able to control the glass and win the rebound game, a good result could be coming.
Play To Your Strengths
Wisconsin is averaging just over 68 points per game this season, led by Ethan Happ and Brad Davison. This combo is responsible for 28.4 points per game and is the catalyst for the Badgers. If the Illini can limit the damage Happ and Davison can do on the offensive side, that bodes well for this team.
On that same account, Illinois has been up and down all season in regards to its three-point shooting. Some games it’s a strength, and some games the Illini are ice cold.
Illinois needs to recognize early if its shots are falling and play to their strength for the night. Find a way to get the ball to the interior for Leron Black and ‘Spicy G’ Greg Eboigbodin. The pair is shooting 19-of-28 over the past two games.
HOMER TIME! I’m so tired of losing. 0-7 seems impossible, right?
Illinois wins a big road game, 72-61.