As we draw to a near close on the 2018 regular season, the Fighting Illini do not have the record many fans — myself included — had hoped for in 2018. Sitting at 3-13, Illinois is a far cry from what this program used to be. Many of their losses in 2018 have been competitive, so there is solace in that regard.
However, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
There are so many things that this team must improve on during this coming offseason, and Coach Brad Underwood is the right man to lead the charge. His style of coaching is a far cry from that of his predecessor. His boisterous and vocal leadership style has been a hit with some while berated by others. I, for one, appreciate seeing a coach get animated on the sideline, demanding the best of his players, while coaching from start to finish.
That is how you wipe the losing off this program. The mentality of defeatism and the lackluster attitude that permeates the locker room will soon be abolished.
Hopefully, as Purdue travels to Champaign, the Illini are able to commit to the following steps to ensure victory against a very good Big Ten team:
Win The Rebounding Battle
Whether it is Michael Finke (if available, but likely not), Leron Black or Greg Eboigbodin, Illinois must crash the boards if they hope to win.
Underwood and staff must put a huge emphasis on the offensive boards against Purdue, as the Illini will likely need multiple second chance points to come out on top. If Illinois hopes to win against Purdue, they must find a way to box out down low and win the rebounding battle.
Make The Three
A broken record this season has been Illinois missing the inside shots. From the first game this season, the Illini have struggled finishing around the rim.
To counteract this, Illinois must find their shooters away from the rim. Whether it is Leron Black and his phenomenal mid-range game or the combo of Trent Frazier/Aaron Jordan/Mark Smith/Kipper Nichols making threes, Illinois has to get open away from the rim.
Ideally, shooting from 40 percent from three should likely be the goal tonight.
Tonight, you have a 3-13 team facing a 13-3 team. You can say that Illinois’ record is not indicative of the talent on this team, and I would be inclined to agree with you. However, the record is what the record is.
Until this team can stop beating themselves, this is where we stand. Illinois will need to force a good ball handling team into mistakes. It has happened in the past. Illinois has shown that it can force the best teams into bad situations.
They must pressure from the first jump ball to the end of the game. Play with a full press all game long, force Matt Painter’s team into mistakes, and capitalize on those mistakes.
I would love to see Illinois get a win tonight against a nationally ranked team. The State Farm Center was crazy against Nebraska and is a big part of why this team won.
I would love to see these players who have worked so hard to get a win in their final home game of 2018. I just don’t know that Illinois can do it. I think Illinois will lead at the half but, again, will hit a drought in the second half.
Purdue will hold on to win 71-66.