Struggling against the zone is nothing new for the Illini in the last five years (or better known as the second Lon Kruger took the job as the Atlanta Hawks head coach), but it is still frustrating to see every time it happens. Since the Illini are a man-to-man defensive team, they do not practice playing against a zone that much in practice, and when they do, they are playing the world's most piss poor zone defense this side of the Mississippi. Why? There are simple different fundamentals between man-to-man defenses and zones, so when the Illini are practicing a zone defense, they really are not playing against one that they would see in a regular game. I always like when man-to-man teams fall back into a zone because you are most likely going to tear it up since many defenders that are used to playing man defense get lazy in a zone, and become horrific defenders.
So outside of the obvious reasons why the Illini struggle against a zone? A stagnant offense, the inability for post players to make a solid flash to the high post when the ball is on the wing or the short corner, the inability for the post player on the short corner to make a quick decision when he gets the ball, and players dribbling to try and reverse the ball, the Illini struggle because they are used to running their zone offense against players that don't know how to play a zone defense.
So Sunday's game established one thing, the Illini struggled against the zone, but what specific line ups struggled the most against the zone? Could the line ups that struggled give Illini fans a hint as to what the problems were offensively? This is what will be the focus of this edition of the Box Score Breakdown.
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4||Player 5||Differential||Time on Floor|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Rich McBride||Marcus Arnold||James Augustine||13||9:51|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Brian Randle||James Augustine||3||2:18|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Marcus Arnold||James Augustine||2||2:32|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||Brian Randle||James Augustine||2||2:32|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Brian Randle||Marcus Arnold||2||2:01|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Brian Randle||Warren Carter||James Augustine||2||2:01|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Brian Randle||Shaun Pruitt||1||2:26|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Warren Carter||Shaun Pruitt||0||0:36|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Brian Randle||Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||0||0:35|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||Brian Randle||Marcus Arnold||0||0:14|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||-1||2:07|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Rich McBride||Brian Randle||James Augustine||-1||1:30|
|Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||Warren Carter||Shaun Pruitt||-1||1:15|
|Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||Brian Randle||Warren Carter||James Augustine||-1||1:01|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Rich McBride||Warren Carter||James Augustine||-2||1:12|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Rich McBride||Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||-3||4:25|
|Dee Brown||Rich McBride||Brian Randle||Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||-4||3:24|
Illinois' Best Five-Man Unit: Dee Brown, Chester Frazier, Rich McBride, Marcus Arnold, and James Augustine
Illinois' Worst Five-Man Unit: Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, and James Augustine
Once Bruce Weber found a line up that worked against the zone, he stuck with it. The line up of Dee Brown, Chester Frazier, Rich McBride, Marcus Arnold, and James Augustine first stepped on the floor with the Illini down 25-19 with 5:22 left on the clock in the first half. These five players worked the best against the Texas Pan American zone and ended the first half on a 17-7 run giving the Illini a 36-32 lead heading into the intermission. After what I can only assume was a nice solid ass chewing by Bruce Weber at halftime, the Illini coach decided to stick with the hot line up to start out the second half. These five players played together for another 4:29 in the second half extending the Illini lead to 46-39.
Why was this lineup so effective against the Pan American zone? One reason is simple, this was the most veteran line up the Illini coach could have used on the court. Dee Brown and James Augustine are seniors, and Rich McBride and Marcus Arnold are juniors. Yes, Chester Frazier is a freshman, but when he was on the court with veterans, and players that know how to space the floor against a zone defense. The combination of Marcus Arnold and James Augustine on the inside especially helped the Illini because both players are able to make the jump shot from the short corner, or the high post, and during this stretch of the game, the Illini guards were using both players at these positions to help quickly rotate the ball, and find easy baskets.
How effective was this lineup? In the 9:51 around half time, this team scored 27 of Illinois' 71 points. So in just 24.625% of the game clock time, this group scored 38.03% of the Illini's points.
- After playing a very good game on Friday evening, Shaun Pruitt struggled mightily against the Pan American zone, and with an ankle injury. Shaun was in seven different line up combinations on the afternoon, and only one of them netted a positive result for the Illini. All evening, Shaun struggled to find the right place to be against the zone, which is not surprising because he has not had much time to play against one.
- It is interesting to note that in the two times Dee Brown was on the bench getting his required rest for the half, the Illini netted a negative result on the court, but just losing one point each time he was resting next to Bruce Weber. This will be something to watch all season as Bruce Weber tries to get Dee the most rest possible in real minutes while minimizing the number of game minutes Dee is not on the court. Look for Weber to take Dee out with 12:30 or so on the clock, and then put him back in the game after the under 12:00-minute TV timeout in most games.
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Differential||Time on Floor|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Rich McBride||7||16:58|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||7||12:00|
|Dee Brown||Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||2||2:46|
|Dee Brown||Jamar Smith||2||2:36|
|Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||Rich McBride||-1||1:15|
|Chester Frazier||Jamar Smith||-1||1:01|
|Dee Brown||Rich McBride||-4||3:24|
Illinois' Best Guard Combination: Dee Brown, Chester Frazier, and Rich McBride
Illinois' Worst Guard Combination: Dee Brown and Rich McBride
- The first thing that I thought when looking at the best and the worst combinations was, interesting. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When it was just Dee and Rich in the back court, that meant Brian Randle was on the wing, and Brian is not a very effective player against the zone defense. Why? He is a slasher by nature, and his outside jump shot, to be kind, is suspect. While he does have good basketball instincts, he was better suited on Sunday evening being inside trying to break the zone where he could use his athleticism to get offensive rebounds. When he was on the perimeter against the zone, he struggled to get anything done because he was just not a threat from the outside.
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Differential||Time on Floor|
|Marcus Arnold||James Augustine||15||12:23|
|Brian Randle||James Augustine||4||6:20|
|Brian Randle||Marcus Arnold||2||2:15|
|Brian Randle||Warren Carter||James Augustine||1||3:02|
|Brian Randle||Shaun Pruitt||1||2:26|
|Warren Carter||Shaun Pruitt||-1||1:51|
|Warren Carter||James Augustine||-2||1:12|
|Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||-4||6:32|
|Brian Randle||Shaun Pruitt||James Augustine||-4||3:59|
Illinois' Best Forward Combination: Marcus Arnold and James Augustine
Illinois' Worst Forward Combination: Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, and James Augustine.
- The Illini were -3 for the game when Marcus Arnold and James Augustine were not on the court together. They were the Illini's front court combination when they went on the run to end the first half and start the second half that sealed the victory.
- An interesting thing is that when Brian Randle was playing the four spot, the Illini were much more effective. As I stated in the guard portion of this breakdown, it is just because at this point in his career against a zone, Brian is more effective as an inside player than on the perimeter.
Illinois' Best Player: Marcus Arnold (+17)
Illinois' Worst Player: Shaun Pruitt (-8)
- It is a complete switch from Friday night's game as to the player with the highest +/- ranking and the player with the lowest as Marcus Arnold took the honors for the highest +/- on Sunday afternoon while Shaun Pruitt went from a +28 on Friday evening to a -8 on Sunday.
- Brian Randle was a beast on the offensive glass on Sunday. He led the Illini in rebounding, and he had a rebounding rate of 25.40. Brian's shooting percentage was 60%, but when you combine that with a 0-for from the free throw line, it made his true shooting percentage 44.38%, which is not very good considering how many offensive rebounds he pulled down.
- For the second straight game, James Augustine has been converting all of his offensive opportunities at a high rate. He had a true shooting percentage of 71.72%, he took one free throw for every two shots he attempted, and he was the team leader on Sunday in points per shot attempt with 1.43. I still would like to see James more assertive offensively. His passiveness at times is shown by the fact his usage rate was lower than Dee Brown's (acceptable), Rich McBride's (against a zone it is acceptable), Brian Randle's, Jamar Smith's, and Warren Carter's (Warren only played 6 minutes and managed to score 4 points, so he was very involved offensively in his limited time).
- Marcus Arnold's individual numbers do not look that good at all, but it is what he provided the team on offense that made him so effective on the floor. He knew where he needed to be and how to space the offense to make it most effective, so while his numbers do not jump out and say, "Yeah, he should have been a +15 for the game" when he was in the game, the Illini definitely looked better on the court than when he was watching the game from the bench.
- The over-reliance on the three-point shot was not unexpected once I saw the Broncs were going to toss a zone out against the Illini, but it was disappointing. Sure, many people think you can just shoot over the zone, but I think the best way to break a zone is from the inside out with precision passing and spacing. The Illini relied too much on swinging the ball around the perimeter and then jacking up another three on Sunday afternoon. As each Illini guard's percent of three point shot numbers show, they were not penetrating the zone and finding the holes, they just took the easy way out and shot over it.