Delaware State posed match up problems for the Illini from the opening tip off. The tallest player in the Hornets starting lineup was 6-7. The height advantage the Illini had was quickly mitigated by Delaware State Head Coach Gregg Jackson by having whoever an Illini big man was guarding, be it James Augustine, Nick Smith, or Jack Ingram, bring the ball up the court. This forced the Illini big men to defend on the outside against much quicker players, and they struggled to do it.
With the Illini defenders struggling to keep up with the quicker Hornets and close out on outside jump shots, Delaware State was getting and make open shots nearly every time down the court. The defensive problems were not limited to the match up problems presented by size, they were also seen in the Illini back court. Guards Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams seemed ambivalent to playing defense on Friday night. They were not pressuring the ball, and they were not staying in front of their man when he was attempting to drive to the basket. All three players were not taking pride in their defense, and it showed with the results on the court.
Offensively, it was a completely different story for the Fighting Illini. The Illini were able to pretty much do anything they pleased on the offensive end of the court, but especially on the interior. James Augustine was dominant offensively in the first half as has was 7-8 from the floor scoring all fifteen of his points. Dee Brown's hot shooting along with Augustine's play on the inside helped spark the Illini's 11-0 run in the first half that pretty much sealed the game.
To further illustrate how good the Illini were offensively on Friday night, and how poorly they played on defense, I will again present the offensive / defensive efficiency numbers for the team.
Offensive Efficiency: 149.8
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8
Points per Possession (Offensively): 1.50
Points per Possession (Defensively): 1.16
Looking at these numbers, and combining them with the observations I had from the game on Friday evening, it is pretty obvious that I was right, Illinois played terrible defense against Delaware State. They allowed the Hornets to score more than one point a possession (the artificial bar I set in my head for a good defensive performance).
Now the question that I have for myself is if I think this game was an aberration. I think it probably was, and there could be a number of factors for the lackluster defensive performance, but it was still disappointing to see. In the post game comments, Bruce Weber was also upset with the defensive intensity of his players, but especially his guards. This will be addressed, and hopefully we see a little more intensity on the side of the ball that wins championships, instead of just the side of the ball that sells tickets.
PLAYER BY PLAYER ANALYSIS
The pre-season Big Ten Player of the Year played what I thought was a very lack luster game on Friday night. He did not seem to be into the game, and he seemed to let the action come to him instead of taking the action to the Hornets. There were two or three occasions late in the first half where Deron became an aggressor on offense, and it allowed him to get two easy shots, a leaner in the lane, and then a lay up.
Defensively, Deron was the Illini's stopper last season. He always had the task of slowing down the opposition's best player, but on Friday night with the way he was playing he would not have been able to stop anyone. He seemed to just not take pride in his defense. He let people drive past him, he made bad jumps at the ball in passing lanes, and he was not playing help side defense like he normally does.
It find it amazing that I personally do not think Deron played a good game on Friday night and I can look at the stat sheet and see that he scored twelve points and dished out six assists. That is how much I expect from him on a nightly basis.
Dee Brown was the spark in the first half that sent Illinois onto the 11-0 run that put the Illini ahead for good. He had five points in that run, two from the free throw line and one of his four three point shots. When Dee was shooting, he was doing everything right on Friday night. He was getting the ball in a position to shoot and he was taking shots with his feet set. When that happens, nights like he had on Friday happen. Defensively, he encountered the same problems his backcourt mate did.
The one bad point to Dee's game last night was his entry passes. (I will expound on entry passes a little later in the random notes section). With the Illini's advantage inside, Dee was looking to get the ball inside, but he was not able to do so for most of the evening. He would see a tiny hole that he could get the ball in, and fire a pass to James. The problems were that he either air mailed the passes over James' head, or they were deflected by a defender.
I would like to commend Dee for one thing last night besides his three point shooting: he made a left handed lay up. Dee drove the ball into traffic and switched hands to shoot a left handed lay up for his only non-three point basket of the night. I figure if I am going to harp on Dee for not using his left hand, I should also give him credit when he remembers that he does have one.
Like the rest of the starting guards, Luther's problem was not in playing offense, it was in playing defense. He could score at will, and he was shooting well on the night, but he regressed back to the defense he played in his freshman and sophomore seasons on Friday night.
Early on in the game, James Augustine was a dominant player offensively. He was able to score at will against the Hornets from Delaware State, but after half time, he was never an offensive threat for a collection of different reasons:
- He was not getting good solid post position on much smaller players. James was getting fronted for most of the game, and he was not giving the guards a target where he could get the ball.
- He was not in the post every possession. There were many different positions on Friday night where James (or any post man for that matter) never attempted to set up on the block. Against a team like Delaware State where Illinois' inside advantage is definitely there, that is a mistake that should not be made. James should have touched the ball once or twice in every thirty-five second possession.
- He was not looking to score in the post in the second half. There were a few possessions where I saw James get the ball in the post, and then immediately throw it back to a guard without looking towards the basket.
Roger Powell, Jr.
Roger played a very typical Roger Powell, Jr. game. He had three offensive rebounds which he turned into points. He worked to get the ball off the glass, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I did not really notice Roger that much in the game, which may be construed as a good thing because that meant he was not making any mistakes, but it also meant he was not doing anything spectacular. Roger was on the floor for the Illini's 11-0 run, and he added a dunk that helped ignite the Assembly Hall crowd.
The biggest thing I hope for in some of these early season 'buy' games is that Rich McBride will gain confidence in himself. Hopefully Friday night was the first brick in the building of Rich's confidence. He shot three for four from behind the arc, and hit two of those in the final two minutes of the game. Illinois will need Rich to be a confident player offensively, and Friday night was the first step for Rich into regaining confidence. Now, we need another step on Sunday afternoon.
The Delaware State Hornets were a terrible match up for Jack Ingram. Whenever he was in the game, Gregg Jackson would figure out who he was guarding and have him bring the ball up the court forcing Jack to guard a player on the perimeter. Jack did it serviceably, but the match up problems limited his time in the game to only eight minutes.
In what I think might have been the most disappointing thing for Bruce Weber on Friday night, Warren Carter was only able to play six minutes for the Illini. In his six minutes Warren did score with two fifteen to seventeen foot baseline jumpers on consecutive possessions right after he entered the game. It was good to see Warren make those shots, and that can only build his confidence even more.
Nick did not play much on Friday night for the same reason that Jack Ingram did not play, the match ups were horrible for him. The tallest player on the Hornets was seven inches shorter than Nick, and him guarding a guard might win the award for the weekend's best unintentional comedy at a sporting event.
The Illini's only freshman saw only four minutes at the end of the game on Friday night because the team just could not put away Delaware State until late. He did pull down two rebounds in his time in the game (giving him a forty minute average of 20 per game), but by the time he saw the court the meaningful action was already complete, so you could not really get a read on how he would play in a pressure situation.
RANDOM GAME / POST GAME OBSERVATIONS
- Outside of defense, the Illini coaching staff will probably focus on one thing the guards need to work on before the next game, feeding the post. Dee, Deron, and Luther were all trying to make the spectacular passes to the post instead of the easy ones when they looked to get the ball inside. All the blame does not fall to those three though, James needs to make himself a target and be more demanding for the ball when he has position. That brings me to my next point …
- If there is one thing I dislike more about Weber's offense than anything else, it is the fact that one player is not always in the post no matter what. The Illini's post players have rotated position on the inside for the last year, and last night I was upset James just did not park himself in the lane in the second half. I counted at least five or six possessions in the second half where James did not even try to get post position. Against a team where their tallest player was 6-7, that should not happen. James' foot should be glued to the block on offense in a situation like Illinois saw last night.
- As I listened to the post game show on WDWS on the drive back up I-57, I was disappointed in the content of the show. I heard two Illini fans in the hour I was getting the show call up and talk about the game. Every other caller was either complaining about the empty seats in A section, or pointing to the score of the Kansas game. Why? I don't get it. This was the start of the 100th year of Illinois Basketball, and people were more interested in Kansas eeking by Vermont in Lawrence and the empty seats in A section.
- The empty seats in A section were bothersome to me, but they were nothing new. I don't really get worked up about it any more because there is nothing I can do, but I always wonder why people can't find at least someone to give the tickets to, especially if they are just going to eat them. I beg every one if you have an Illinois basketball ticket and can't go to the game, give it to someone because they will want it. If you know before hand you can't go, donate it to a charity. You get a tax write off, and someone will be in your seat.