Illini will have difficult task in VCU’s “Havoc” defense

Illinois+Jaylon+Tate+%281%29+brings+the+ball+up+the+floor+during+the+game+against+North+Carolina+State+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Tuesday%2C+November+29.+The+Illini+won+88-74.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Jaylon Tate (1) brings the ball up the floor during the game against North Carolina State at State Farm Center on Tuesday, November 29. The Illini won 88-74.

By Lucas Wright , Staff writer

The Illinois men’s basketball team has been plagued by staunch defenses this season, shown by back-to-back losses against West Virginia and Florida State last week.

The next team on the schedule has one of the most chaotic defensive strategies in the country. The Illini with travel to Miami to battle VCU and its defense, which is appropriately dubbed “Havoc.”

The “Havoc” nickname stemmed from the days of VCU’s former head coach Shaka Smart, but the defensive mindset has stayed true with the program. The roster, headlined by seniors Mo Alie-Cox and JeQuan Lewis, has had its fair share of NCAA tournament experience and is poised to deal with the experience of the Illinois roster.

All eyes will be on the Illini’s ability to handle the defensive pressure Saturday. The Illinois offense has been overwhelmed by turnovers this season, averaging nearly 15 a game. When asked if his team was ready to face the VCU pressure, head coach John Groce said, “We’ll see.”

Groce responds to criticism with lineup change

Illini fans have been vocal during the past few weeks, voicing concerns over Groce’s lineups and how he has been spreading playing time among his players.

While Illinois was on its three-game losing streak, Groce stuck with the heavily-criticized Jaylon Tate who had been inserted into the starting lineup for Aaron Jordan early in the season. However, in the Illini’s recent win over NC State, Tate was limited to nine minutes of time on the court and was benched for the entire second half.

Tate had a negative plus-minus stat in the first half while freshman Te’Jon Lucas was playing well in his limited minutes in the half. Groce said he played the lineup with the hot hand; outscoring NC State by 15 with Tate on the bench will surely force his hand in the near future.

Groce has not commented on his starting lineup for the weekend matchup with VCU.

Leron Black finds his groove

Sophomore Leron Black had his fingerprints all over the win against the Wolfpack. Black tallied 15 points and eight boards in 26 minutes, making seven of a team-high 14 field goal attempts.

“The energy level from Black was just contagious. He plays the game with such enthusiasm,” Groce said. “You almost feel like every time he shoots it from 15 to 17 feet, it’s going to go in.”

Black operated in isolation in the midrange to low-post areas on the floor well against NC State, but he truly shined in midrange catch-and-shoot opportunities that Groce mentioned.

As Black has progressed through his first four games of the season, he has become more of a cornerstone for the Illini offense, and Groce’s comments point toward him becoming an even more integral part.

[email protected]
@LucasWright95