It didn’t take long to figure out that the Illini were going to have their hands full on the defensive end against North Florida.
The Ospreys are an experienced team that has played in the Big Dance and won in a big environment last season at Purdue. They have an offense that spreads you out with shooters. It is unlikely that North Florida makes 17 three pointers in another a game this year. Yes, they were feeling it, but why were they feeling it?
From the start, the Illini were not locked in on the defensive end.
It was not one player.
It was not a matter of Man or Zone.
It was not technique or strategy.
It was the mental mindset as a whole on the defensive end. Simply, the Illini were not ready to defend for 40 minutes.
In the first few minutes of the game, the Illini did not pick up UNF shooters in transition. Also, almost every Illini player was beat off the dribble at one point or another. Uncontested shots gave North Florida players confidence and then contested shots fell as well. Illini players were beat on back cuts with no help on the weak side.
The Illini were beat off the dribble way to many times. Off-ball defenders had to choose between staying with their man and giving up a layup or helping into the lane, opening up passing lanes to red-hot shooters. The Illini were getting beat off the dribble in their sideline and baseline zone defenses as well.
When you are getting beat off the dribble on a consistent basis, there is not a lot you can do from an X's and O's standpoint to overcome that.
A team certainly is in a rhythm when it scores 93 points on the road shoots over 50 percent from the field and three, and assists on 20 of their 35 made baskets.UNF passed around the perimeter at will, and the Ospreys post entries came too easy.
The good news for the Illini is they can make the decision to get locked in on the defensive end. Keeping your man in front of you is a decision you make each and every possession. It starts with emotion, energy and pride. Once you make the decision to get after it on the defensive end, then you can strategize.
Adding Kendrick Nunn and Leron Black to the lineup undoubtedly will help the Illini. Most teams would struggle if they were missing two starters in the lineup. But most teams would struggle to score when missing key players.
The effort on the defensive end is something that can change and it can change quickly. If you are in an offensive funk as a shooter, you have to get into the gym and work your way out of it. If you are in an offensive funk as a team, it may take practice time to get into a rhythm or make changes in the system.
Defense can be corrected in one day. It's a mindset.
The Illini have a chance to lock in on the defensive end against North Dakota State, 41 hours after the final horn of the North Florida loss.
The sky is not falling.
North Florida is a good team that will likely win the Atlantic Sun and make the NCAA tournament. But if the Illini don’t change their approach on the defensive end they will continue to give up big numbers to teams.
North Dakota State is not going to make 17 threes. But they will execute their offensive system and will take advantage of any openings they are given. The Illini need to get locked in on defense.
Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. played for four NCAA Tournament teams at Illinois, from 1999-2002. He also served on coaching staffs for Rick Majerus, Bill Self, Rob Judson and Bruce Weber. Follow him on Twitter @smharrington24.