CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Brad Underwood’s identity was his pressure defense. The third year Illini coach had success at previous stops with Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State forcing teams to turn the ball over with an in-your-face, aggressive approach.
Then he changed it up.
The Illini (12-5, 4-2 B1G) are sporting a new look defense this year, an unfamiliar style for Underwood. Through 17 games, Illinois is finding success though, playing more of a half court game against opponents defensively.
“Now I’ve done it two different ways,” Underwood said. “We were so good at previous stops playing the other way. Getting into people but again, it’s always nice to know you have a chance stop the other team and maybe that wasn’t quite the case the past two years.”
Therein lies the problem for the Illini, who led the Big Ten last season forcing turnovers with 516. They forced a bunch of teams to turn it over, see Michigan State’s Cassius Winson, but gave up so many easy baskets in transition without a true rim protector. Once Kofi Cockburn arrived, more options presented themselves to Underwood and his staff. Illinois was 23rd in the country in turnovers forced last season, now they sit at 212th.
“We knew we could score but we also felt like to go on the road, we had to shoot 45-50 percent to have a chance to win and this group’s really buying into that end of it.”
KenPom has the Illini 31st in adjusted defense, they finished 108th last season.