Illinois had two excruicatingly long scoring droughts in its 69-60 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday. The Illini looked like they were in full control of the game in Madison midway through the second half. But after claiming a 13-point lead with 12:22 left in the second half, the Illini went the next 7 minutes and 13 seconds without a point. That followed a 5-minute, 35-second scoring drought in the first half. Those droughts easily were the difference in the outcome as Wisconsin went on a 12-0 run during the first UI drought and a 17-0 run during the second drought. The Illini (12-15, 4-10 Big Ten) lost their 10th straight to the Badgers (17-10, 9-5 Big Ten) and their sixth straight in Madison.
How do you avoid going on a scoring drought? There are certain things that you have to do and certain things that you cannot do to avoid long scoring droughts. What are the Illini doing and not doing in those possessions to go scoreless? The two Illini scoring droughts combined to go for 12 minutes and 48 seconds. During this time, the Illini had 19 possessions. Let's see what the film says.
First, to avoid a long scoring drought you have to get an easy basket. One way to get an easy basket is to create a turnover that leads to a quick bucket. During this stretch, the Illini only forced one Wisconsin turnover. So, there were no opportunities for the Illini to get out and run before the defense could get set. Another way to get an easy basket is to get a post touch on the block. During those 19 possessions, the Illini had zero post touches. There has to be a point when the staff calls a play or discuss getting a post touch. Maverick Morgan did not play great in this game but has been playing well. He has to get a post touch once in 19 possessions on the block. Also, Malcolm Hill was playing great and was in a good offensive rhythm. He needs to get a touch on the post at some point during a scoring drought. The Illini missed badly on this factor of avoiding a drought.
Another way to avoid a scoring drought is to take care of the basketball to make sure your team is getting a good look at the basket each trip down the floor. The Illini have done a good job of taking care of the ball this season, but they did not during these scoring droughts. The Illini turned the ball over six times during the 19 possessions. That is almost every third possession. It is impossible to score if you are not even getting shots up. These were a mixture of bad passing and careless dribbling. This has to be cleaned up to avoid the long scoring drought.
The next area to avoid a scoring drought is to put pressure on the defense and get to the foul line. If you look at the box score, you see the Illini got outshot at the free throw line 33-10. Some will say that it was home cooking and the referees did not give the Illini any calls. But if you look at the film during these droughts, the Illini did not do the necessary things to get to the line. We already talked about getting zero post touches. That would be one way to put pressure on the defense and draw fouls. The next way to put pressure on the defense is driving the basketball to get into the lane. This forces help situations for the defense and causes defensive rotations. During the 19 possessions, the Illini only got the ball into the paint three times. You can get the ball into the paint by passing it to a cutter, passing to a post player or driving it off the dribble. By only getting it into the paint three times, the Illini put zero pressure on the defense. There were only two fouls during this drought and it is clear why: the Illini were living on the perimeter. The Illini settled for the easy shot and did not work hard enough to get a good offensive possession.
The Illini got off 11 shots in those 19 possessions, and eight of those 11 shots were threes or jumpers. The first rule of defense is to never foul a jump shooter. If the Illini are settling for jumpers then there are no opportunities to earn trips to the foul line.
Every team is going to go on a scoring drought. That just happens in basketball. However, when you are in the midst of a scoring drought, there are certain things you have to do to try to get out of the drought. These numbers are alarming when you break down the film. In 19 possessions, you must get more than three paint touches and zero post touches. By settling for perimeter jumpers, you are playing into the defense's hands and you are adding more pressure on your shot-makers.
The Illini staff must do a better job of calling plays to get the ball inside and to the rim to put pressure on the defense. The players need to execute and work hard to get a better shot and not settle for the easy one. If the Illini don’t take care of these issues, there will be more scoring droughts like these two against Wisconsin.
Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. He 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.
Sean's +/- Big Ten standings
Rules of +/- standings. When you win at home you get a “0." When you lose on the road you get a “0." When you lose at home you get a minus-1. When you win on the road you get a plus-1. This evens out the unbalanced schedule during the season. Usually it takes a plus-4 to get a share of Big Ten title or plus-5 to win it outright. Usually, all positives have a good shot at the NCAA Tournament. Usually, even is a Bubble team.
Standings after games through 2/21/16
- Iowa +4
- Indiana +4
- Maryland +3
- Ohio State +3
- Michigan State +2
- Purdue +2
- Michigan +2
- Wisconsin +1
- Nebraska 0
- Penn State -1
- Northwestern -2
- Illinois -3
- Minnesota -6
- Rutgers -7