Illinois men’s head wheelchair basketball coach happy with team’s midseason form

Illinois’ Ryan Neiswender drives the ball down the court past his opponents during the game against Missouri at the Activities and Recreation Center on Friday, February 13, 2015.The Illini won 53-46.

By Tommy Polcyn

Teams with sustained success often get complacent, but the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team has not fallen into that habit. Head coach Matt Buchi has continued to push his team forward in pursuit of a national championship.

“We are always looking to work harder and make more improvements in our game,” Buchi said. “We are really trying to shore up our defensive schemes and spread the floor better on offense. I like where we are at, but we can definitely get better.”

The Illini have just passed the halfway point of their season, and have been competitive with top teams as of late. Though they came away with just one win in their last tournament, Buchi said he really liked the way his players fared over the weekend.

Offensively the Illini have performed well, largely due to the play of senior Ryan Neiswender. He leads the team in points and assists.

“(Neiswender) is our biggest threat on offense,” Buchi said. “When he is on the floor he really allows us to get great looks because he forces defenses to cover the whole floor. He allows us to get much better scoring opportunities.”

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Buchi is looking to utilize the 3-pointer a lot more in the second half and is confident his team will benefit from taking more outside shots. He expects to see much more outside shooting and spacing, especially from Neiswender, Mak Nong and Spencer Heslop.

Illinois’ head coach is confident in his shooters and believes that giving them a little extra space will allow them to finish more consistently.

He’s also looking to make some adjustments on the defensive side of the ball.

“Our team is a little bit slower than we have been in the past,” Buchi said. “I wouldn’t say that as a bad thing but it just makes us play more collectively as a unit. Our shifts and overall communication is what I’m looking to improve the most.”

Regardless, Buchi is content with where his team currently stands and believes it will continue to chip away against tough competition and be ready for nationals.

The Illini will face their first of these challenges this weekend — they travel to Auburn University for a tournament. Some of the country’s best teams will compete at the tournament — Wisconsin-Whitewater, Texas-Arlington and Alabama.

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