Illinois has lost two of their last three, with their offense looking pretty damned offensive in the process. And the win, a week ago against Iowa, was against a pretty poor team at home. Against Minnesota the offense was so bad it was the lowest point total in 20 years. Against Wisconsin a few nights ago it wasn’t much better. In fact, since Bruce took over at Illinois, the trend for his teams is dwindling offensive production during the last third of the season. The lone exception being the Final Four team. All of which begs the question – why?
Some years it’s been injuries. Some years, deteriorating team cohesion. Some years you didn’t notice so much because the defense improved enough to overshadow lack of offensive production. So what’s the deal with the Illini motion?
It’s true, there are a lot of good coaches in the Big10 these days, and they do a fine job scouting and gameplanning their opponents. Tubby Smith and Bo Ryan (and Iowa’s Lickliter for one half) took away the easy looks and made things difficult. But really, the problem with the motion is it actually becomes static this time of year. Everyone on the team has become comfortable with their cuts, where they like to pick-and-roll, where they like to float for jumpers. Even though it’s an offense that eschews set plays, it essentially becomes as predictable as what you ran in high school. The motion is supposed to facilitate creativity, and yet by February it always seems to sap the funkiness right out of the team (if they had any to begin with).
So, in the interest of the Illini Nation, we provide the following Pentagram analysis of how to improve the offense for the stretch run, add a little zazz*…
- Run a little. Why Weber is so afraid to run is beyond me – especially since he always seems to have three guards on the floor. Run the delayed break to get Mike Davis and D-Mac some open looks. Make the other teams thing about it. Yes, Tisdale will be gassed and we might turn it over, but damn it…
- Implement set plays. A few set plays could get you some quick baskets and instill confidence. Mike Davis can jump over nearly everyone – how about a backdoor lob? How about double screens for Meacham and Legion? The old picket fence? Even the high-low (hey, these big guys can pass)
- Throw it into the post. Pruitt’s not there anymore, fellas. Throw it into the post early and let the big guys shoot or draw down the extra help. We never do this. We don’t even look into the post until there’s 10 seconds left on the shot clock… How about having the bigs pick for each other as part of the motion instead of the constant perimeter stuff. Big guys get open if they think they’ll get the ball.
- Open up some driving lanes. Not sure if this is the fault of the motion so much as the mentaility and skillset of our guards, but when D-Mac dropped 25 on the Badgers a few weeks ago it was because he was driving and drawing fouls. It was Kiwanne-esque. You have to drive once in awhile especially if the other team is pressuring the hell out of you because they know you’d rather shoot jumpers. Maybe we’ll see some of this next year when those athlete guards arrive…
- Run, damn it, run. See above. It bears repeating. I’m sick and tired of dour games in the 50s. Memo to coaching staff: you can still play good defense if you run a fast break (well, maybe).
Will we see even one of these wrinkles in the Illini offense? Probably not. After the Wisconsin game, all Bruce wanted to talk about was body language and defensive intensity. That’s all well and good, and the D was pretty sorry, but you can’t beat good teams socring in the 50s. You can’t get out of the first weekend of the tournament if you can’t score. And here’s a true fact of basketball: you play with more defensive intensity when you’re making shots and feeling confident.
If nothing else, Coach has shown he believes in his system and is one stubborn dude. Possibly, he would see any variation as a departure from ‘what we do’, indicative of a lack of faith in said system. Coaches everywhere fall into this trap. But we say nay. Such a departure would in fact be a sound tactical adjustment. A change-up that improves your offense during the last ten games, when everyone knows your tendencies… Even if it only means a few more good looks, a few easy scores, it would give the opponents something else to think about. Come on, Coach, let’s see some creativity, let’s see some Zazz!
*Zazz brought to you by Dethklok (linky)