The first game of the Illinois Men’s Basketball team’s Spain trip didn’t have any video, making Wednesdays second leg the first extended look at this year’s Illini squad. International trips like this aren’t the best predictors of much. Brad Underwood isn’t coaching any of the games, as the rest of the bench assistants get one of the three games. Tim Anderson sat in the big seat the first game, and Geoff Alexander was in it for Illinois 105-60 demolition of Crudeli Academy in Valencia.
It isn’t just the free flowing coaching changes either. rotations on these trips matches the exhibition level, with most players playing between 15-20 minutes and no more. Still, there are some things to take away from 40 minutes of scrimmage. The starting lineup for this game was Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn, Sencire Harris, Luke Goode, Quincy Guerrier, and Dain Dainja.
1. The Flip
As you probably well know, Illinois was unable to secure a proven veteran point guard in the portal. As such, they will need to get creative offensively. While no coach will show basically any of their hand in a setting like this, Alexander had the Illini run through some of their more standard stuff.
The Illini started off a number of their sets with this little dribble pitch. Here it is the first two possessions of the game:
Likely this doesn’t resemble the Illini’s actual starting lineup, however you can see how they set up to get into offense. Gibbs-Lawhorn might be their best screen and roll guard, and getting Dainja on the roll to the basket is a great way to manufacture deep position. As with most basic sets, there are also a number of counters. Same lineup, this time Guerrier drives hard to the cup off the pitch:
They ran this for a number of players. Ty Rodgers showed a nice way to counter when they overplay both sides. As the game wore on Crudeli Academy allowed the Illini to run their offense lower and lower, allowing for easy step in jumpers:
How projectable to the Big Ten is this? Most times, the Illini will be getting into secondary and tertiary options, but this is a nice platform for a number of their players. Getting guys like Terrence Shannon Jr. downhill in the middle of the floor is a great offensive threat to start a possession. For teams that switch easily, it can also be a way to catch a mismatch.
2. Charity Stripe Study
Last year the Illini shot under 70% from the free throw line as a team. With two of their better shooters from the line on their way out, they need improvement. Dainja and Rodgers likely will be seeing an increase in responsibility offensively, and thus more free throws. Their struggles were evident from their form. Dainja brought the ball up above his head, often hitching at the top. Rodgers shot was so flat he had multiple misses that barely made it over the rim.
In the pre game warmups, Rodgers and Dainja monopolized the free throw line, taking turns putting up 3 straight attempts. It appears the coaches have brought the ball down for Dainja, although there’s still some funk in the approach:
Rodgers looks to have smoothed out what used to be a strong two motion shot. He also doesn’t bring the ball as close to his head:
Both guys are under 50% from the line so far this trip, so final results are pending.
3. Frontcourt Featured
Coming off a year where the Illini were one of the best two point teams in the country, they have show no signs of slowing down in the paint. Despite shooting just 9-53 from beyond the arc overseas, they have put up about 90 points per game. Illinois will certainly need to shoot the ball better against good competition, but the strength in the paint gives them a decent floor.
Underwood said he was happier with the offensive rebounding, and the Illini attacked with three and four bodies going to the glass. If they aren’t going to shoot well, they have to tap into their great positional size and athleticism. This size and power also has allowed them to get into transition. With the halfcourt offense still a bit of an unknown, Illinois ability to get in the open floor, and generate extra possessions will be big.
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