Illinois' defense has been atrocious this season. In case you didn't see their most recent loss to Indiana on Tuesday night, the Fighting Illini allowed the Hoosiers to put up 103 points in Bloomington. This was the first time that the Fighting Illini allowed an opponent to score more than 100 points in regulation since 1991. The team that scored triple digits against Illinois 25 years ago was, yet again, the Indiana Hoosiers. On Tuesday night, Indiana scored 61 second half points, shot 56.9% from the floor, and hit 19 three pointers to absolutely embarrass the Fighting Illini. At no point did it even look like Illinois has a chance to slow down the Hoosiers. They had their way with Illinois all night, getting easy buckets and exploiting the confused and unprepared Fighting Illini defense.
This problem is nothing new for Illinois. It's been too passive on defense all year long. Better teams in the Big Ten conference are having their way with the Illini because they simply don't have what it takes to slow down opposing offenses. Let's take a look at some stats on Kenpom. Illinois ranks 331st in the nation out of 351 teams in effective defensive field goal percentage at 55.1%. This stat measures defensive field goal percentage while giving a greater weight to three pointers. Speaking of three point defense, the Illini are pretty bad in that regard as well. They rank 337th in the nation by allowing teams to shoot 40.0% from behind the arc. Big Ten teams can absolutely scorch the Illini from behind the arc and they can't do anything about it. It wasn't surprising to see Indiana knock down 19 threes.
Illinois ranks 185th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at 103.5. While this isn't terrible on national standards, keep in mind that this ranks 12th in the Big Ten conference. This stat measures points allowed per 100 defensive possessions while also factoring in quality of opponents and the sites of the games. Illinois also ranks 290th in the nation in defensive 2 point field goal percentage at 52.0%. This ranks 12th in the conference. I think you get the point.
We can look at stats all day, but the solution to the problem comes from either better coaching or better play from the team (often times, it's both). There's not much to say about Illinois' defense other than this: it's been so bad. It seems as if there is absolutely no communication on that end of the floor. Guys don't switch over and play help defense; guys don't close out on shooters; guys get lost on screens; guys don't communicate or cut off open lanes to the basket. What the heck needs to be done to get the Illini playing better basketball on that end of the floor?
John Groce can make excuses all he wants, but the burden falls on his shoulders. Allowing a team to score 103 points and knock down 19 three pointers is a joke. It can't happen for a team that wants to find any kind of success in the Big Ten. This is a league of physical, smart, dynamic basketball. It is not for those who approach the game with a half-hearted mindset. You have to play defense or you won't win basketball games.
Coach Groce made a comment in the post-game press conference that his former players (Rayvonte Rice, D.J. Richardson, Sam Mclaurin) all knew the importance of playing defense. That's great, but that has nothing to do with this team's progression. Sure, those players were great and knew how to play defense, but that has nothing to do with what needs to be done to get this year's team playing better defense. This is the Big Ten, and a blowout loss to Indiana was a reality check. Illinois needs to get its stuff together on the defensive end of the floor. Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of frustrated players, coaches, and fans of the Illinois Fighting Illini program.