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Illinois Basketball Has One Weakness, And It’s Not What You Think

Coming into the year, it was thought that Illinois Basketball would have one glaring weakness. Turns out, it might be a different one than most people thought.



Jan 21, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Clifford Omoruyi (11) drives to the basket between Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33) and Marcus Domask (3) during the second half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, it seemed as if Illinois Basketball would have one glaring weakness – point guard.

Last season, Illinois Basketball relied heavily on freshman point guards, a route Brad Underwood was determined not to take in 2023-2024. Those guards cost him dearly with both transferring out.

So how did Underwood address the point guard spot for this roster? It would be easy to say he didn’t and that is fair. Illinois didn’t go out and get a proven basketball scorer who could also run point guard in the transfer portal. Instead, Underwood opted for a more positionless basketball with multiple players being relied upon to score.

How is it going? Better than expected for Illinois Basketball.

While, yes, it is true that Illinois is playing without a traditional point guard this year, you wouldn’t know it based on how they are scoring the basketball. Illinois is averaging 82 points per game this season, which is up from 74 points per game last year. Marcus Domask has proven he can help run an efficient offense when called upon, even if his turnovers leave many scratching their heads. Terrence Shannon Jr can also shoulder that burden. It has been a collective effort this year for Illinois. And it’s working.

So what exactly is their one weakness?

Post Defense

Illinois Basketball has struggled mightily to defend the post, specifically over their last few games. Let’s start by taking a look at the Rutgers game from Sunday afternoon. Clifford Omoruyi put up 22 points on solid efficiency, shooting 10-19 from the field. He seemed to be Rutgers’ only hope, only prayer offensively.

Michigan also found low post success against Illinois, with Tarris Reed scoring 20 points on a scoring-hot 8-10 shooting. Taking it back even further, Maryland big man, Julian Reese, dropped 20 points, making 8 of his 16 shots. There’s a trend starting to form that teams with capable big men are trying to take advantage of.

The reality is, for as game-changing of a defender Coleman Hawkins can be on the perimeter, he’s below average when defending the low post.

It has been interesting to watch these teams attack it time and time again, as Illinois hasn’t done much to counteract it. Towards the end of the game against Rutgers, Underwood finally sent someone over for a double-team.

How concerned should we be about this weakness? Not too terribly.

I think it is something to monitor going forward, though, especially when March rolls around and matchups are king. Despite this weakness, Illinois still beat Michigan on the road by 15 and beat Rutgers by 23. It only cost them against Maryland. They were a horrible offensive team that was given some life by subpar post-defense.

Illinois can make some changes to try and make life more difficult for these low-post big men in the future, but even so, they might continue to score 80 points a game, and at that point, I am not sure if it will matter.

**all stats sourced from Sports Reference**

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Zach Leslie is one of original members of Armchair Illini, your go-to sources of University of Illinois news. He has sports content published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits and more. He is also one of the most talented videographers in Illini Nation and has published work on some of the most famous Cinema Review sites such as LetterBoxd.