Lingering concerns are there in terms of toughness for the Illini big men. As evidenced, they still get pushed around. Mike Davis is fighting back a little more this year and showing signs of being a little more aggressive, but it is not his nature to be an all-out terror.
Hopefully, with the depth continuing to improve, at least Davis will continue to improve on his aggressiveness in shorter minutes (though it will take time). However, the Illini are not going to win it this year on being tough and should focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Our offensive sets usually consist of a ball-handler (Demetri McCamey) receiving a pick from a big man (Mike Tisdale) on one side, one shooter standing stationary on other side, the other guard (Richardson) receiving picks from Davis to go to other three point side, and Davis either flashing to mid-range for a jumper or standing stationary for a layup. While our perimeter game is deep and usually effective due to the depth of shooters from guards to big men, it can lead to lapses of stagnation on offense.
We have some of the best depth in the county, but we also impose some of the most difficult matchups. Bruce Weber emphasized needing to get to the line more. Our starting lineup when including Brandon Paul or Jereme Richmond provides slashing to go with our perimeter game. However, while our passing is much improved and we can get easy outside shots, we are not utilizing the slashing game and getting easy points by going to the line.
Our slashers include Paul, Richmond, Crandall Head and Joseph Bertrand. D.J. Richardson seems to show more flashes of mixing in more of his mid-range game as each game comes along. Therefore, we need to balance using our mid-range and slashing game while simplifying the game for our natural wings.
Imagine Davis, Tyler Griffey or Meyers Leonard setting a pick and instead of opting for the mid-range getting to the baseline/layup area and relying on either Paul, Richmond, or Head to either shoot a mid-range jumper, pump-fake and create for someone, get to the line, or get a lay-up. This would allow for more opportunities for raw players to play their natural game, increased opportunities to the free-throw line and more threats on offense.
Another option is to increase post-ups not only through Richmond, but through McCamey. Since our big-men can shoot, it is not a bad idea to allow Illinois to play the swing offense like Wisconsin plays occasionally. McCamey in limited opportunities this year has shown the ability to post-up and open up the passing lanes, or use a spin move to get to the rack.
It is hard to imagine many guards being able to contain McCamey from backing them down. McCamey would be able to back the player down, shoot a fade-away or get to-the rack, hit a slashing wing, an open big man for a jumper or a guard for the open three-point shot. Opponents would have to pick their poison in this situation.
Defensively, while much improved, we still struggle with quick guards that can penetrate. We allow too many guards to get to the middle of lane and either get an easy shot or set up an open shot. For big men, they have allowed for post-ups to get to the middle of the lane instead of forcing weak-hand baseline action. Since the Illini will not switch up with zone, we need to focus more on forcing guards to a baseline trap to get them out of creating for others and making the opponent re-set the offense.
While it would be nice for Tisdale to get nasty and start pushing back, it is not his nature and does not seem like it will be for him wearing an Illini jersey. If Tisdale is in the game, we need to either have Richmond or Paul in the game to help with rebounding at all times.
Tisdale is usually good at boxing out, but holding position and aggressively going after the rebound is a struggle. Holding position for a slight period and allowing Davis and one of Paul/Richmond to go after the rebounds would maximize Tisdale's strengths and not show a glaring weakness.
Overall, Weber and his assistants are a great coaching staff, and they have done a great job of getting the talent and the team to play unselfishly so far. However, we need to play to our strengths and quit dwelling on our weaknesses in which we hope will miraculously go away (expecting the skilled senior big men to get tough, or forcing slashers to be three-point shooters in a short time).
The motion offense is looking good so far, but we must implement balance and incorporating more slashing would provide more options. Our defense also looks much improved, but with our athletes, we should be forcing more offensive threats to go baseline and trap. We have enough quickness at most positions to recover to weak-side.