Head coach John Groce has changed the basketball culture in Illinois and it is certainly an exciting time for Fighting Illini fans. The team is off to a 5-0 start to the regular season and has the chance to make a statement on Wednesday night when they take on the Butler Bulldogs.
Illinois has used an intense defensive attack and a barrage of three point shots to bury their first five opponents and hope to do the same thing Wednesday night against Butler. The Illini's high-pressure defense is their most effective tool— more so than a talented backcourt and NCAA-leading three-pointer average—and it will help them crush the Bulldogs at the Maui Championship.
In Tuesday night's semifinal against North Carolina, Butler dominated the first half with the Tar Heels. They got to the basket fairly easily and ran the game in every aspect. The second half was a much different story. Butler barely held onto the game because they could not stay consistent when North Carolina increased the pressure.
The Bulldogs ended up turning the ball over 18 times to North Carolina because they could not handle the Tar Heel defense in the second half.
The pressure on the ball will be a lot higher Wednesday night when Butler tries to break through the Illinois defense. The Illini has forced 79 turnovers through five games this season, an average of nearly 16 a game.
Groce will always have his teams play an uptempo offense that shoot lots of three pointers, but he will hang his hat on defense. The Illinois defense will be in Butler's face all night long, and the Bulldogs will not be able to handle the pressure.
Look for Illinois to be explosive offensively once again Wednesday night, but when it comes to crunch time the defense will get the key stops they need to bring the Maui Invitational title back to Champaign, Illinois.