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Illinois Missing Key Ingredients to Be Successful in March

Illinois Fighting Illini Brandon Paul Ohio State Buckeyes Lenzell Smith Jr

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

John Groce has brought excitement back to Illinois Fighting Illini, but his energetic personality will not be enough to fill the noticeable voids in his roster.  Illinois has provided some of the better upsets in this crazy season by beating Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State while each team was ranked in the top 10.  However, the Fighting Illini have also slipped against Purdue and Northwestern and today OSU repaid their earlier loss while showing that Illinois lacks the shooting and size to make a deep run into March.

Groce has his team playing at a breakneck pace, attacking the basket with a vengeance and switching and doubling on defense as often as necessary.  Each of these things are done to try to mask their issues with perimeter shooting and interior defense.  The Fighting Illini are shooting 33% from behind the arc for the season and today were exposed by only shooting 7-25 from deep.  In March it is imperative that teams be able to make three point shots as they can be the shots that break the back of opponents and change momentum.  Running out on fastbreak opportunities and driving to the basket in the half court are ways to try to create easy shots and ease the need for three point shooting.  In March, opposing coaches will have their teams better prepared to limit these types of opportunities, thus the reason to be able to shoot the three.  A glaring problem for Groce team.

Similarly, switching screens and doubling the post are an attempt to keep teams on the perimeter and make it more difficult for teams to enter the ball into the post.  Groce plays only three players over 6-foot-6 significant minutes and none of those players are great rebounders or shot blockers.  The Fighting Illini do not have a player averaging more than four rebounds per game. OSU out-rebounded Illinois 36 to 25.

Both of these deficiencies were on display in their loss tonight against OSU, who played small to take advantage of this.  Surely other coaches will take notice and exploit these issues in the tournament.