This past Saturday, Illinois pulled off a pretty surprising upset by upending Maryland at Madison Square Garden. The Illini came into the game at 1-7 in conference play, while the Terrapins were darkhorse contenders for the title at 7-2. Nonetheless, Brad Underwood's team won by double figures, in his best win to date at Illinois. Moreover, Illinois excelled at both ends of the court. Offensively, the team shot 22 free throws and made 20 of them. Combine that with a turnover rate below 13, and things will probably turn out OK.
Defensively, well, you might be tempted to point at UMD's 30 percent turnover rate and conclude that Illinois' overplay paid dividends, and boy do I have pie on my face. Let's check the tape.
Out of the gate, Illinois indeed deployed its typical overplay scheme:
Since Big Ten play has started, I have noticed a bit more sag to Illinois' overplay. This is a good thing, as it allows less wide open space for back cuts. But still, this is firmly overplay. And overplay can really spread a defense out, especially where the offense employs pick and roll action.
Now, there were a few possessions in the game where Illinois went to a 1-2-2 zone. It did not lead to spectacular results, and it wasn't a good zone per se, but UMD failed to capitalize on it.
Still, the zone was largely a possession here and there. And in the preceding clip, a sloppy pick (that really did not need to be perfect anyways) led to a turnover. Otherwise, it was an open 3. Here, Maryland gets the open 3 after Illinois somehow allows the ball to get into the middle despite two taller defenders guarding the pass from Maryland's shortest player.
Still, Maryland is a team full of freshmen wings. And those wings (plus sophomore Darryl Morsell) combined for 14 turnovers. Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, and Eric Ayala had 12 of those, and found themselves on the bench quite a bit.
Enter Serrel Smith, the man Illinois refused to guard. On a pick and roll, Giorgi Bezhanishvili opts to just let his teammate figure out a 2-on-1 situation—he'd rather just stay where he was. Smith...passes?
Next clip, there's some switching that happens but the bottom line is that Illinois chooses to guard a ghost over Smith.
Next we have the obligatory Cutting Man No One Cares About.
There was one possession where Illinois got a bit crossed up and failed to guard Wiggins. Aaron Jordan provided a desperate close out and Illinois was fortunate to escape without being whistled for a foul.
Finally, to really drive the point home, you have Jordan just outside the charge circle as Smith is crossing half court.
This is 4 on 5 basketball, and Illinois' defense did in fact look pretty good defending four players. But give the Illini some credit here, as UMD's more capable offensive players were not up to the task of Illinois' pressure, which is the reason why Smith was on the floor.
Even so, I'm unconvinced this was the right move by Turgeon. When he had the ball, with a teammate setting a pick and the defender getting no help, Smith passed before using the pick. On multiple drives, he was unable to get to the middle of the floor, let alone get a shoulder by the defender. As soon as he got the ball, he was looking to pass, and those passes were not creating opportunities.
This was hardly a surprise. Coming into the game, in conference play, Smith had attempted 23 shots in 119 minutes, converting 6. Illinois did not guard him because the scouting report told Illinois not to guard him. It's going to say the same thing on everyone else's report, especially now.
If there is a team good enough to overcome 4 on 5, it doesn't play in the Big Ten.