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Good Morning, Illini Nation: What about defense?

May 20—Illinois ended the 2023-24 season ranked fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency and ... 91st in adjusted defensive efficiency. Those are the Bart Torvik numbers. The Ken Pomeroy numbers were similar, with the Illini at third and 80th, respectively.

Leaning all in on offense helped Illinois win another Big Ten tournament title and reach its first Elite Eight in nearly two decades. But the Illini had to be that good offensively — had to outscore their opponents — because the defense wasn't as strong.

Brad Underwood admitted to some "deficiencies" on the defensive end of the court last season.

Forcing turnovers wasn't a focus (it hasn't been since Underwood pivoted from the defense he brought with him from Stephen F. Austin), but Illinois ranked 360th nationally in turnover percentage out of 362 Division I teams.

The last three months was where the overall defense fell off. From Jan. 1 through the Elite Eight loss to Connecticut, Illinois allowed its opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from three-point range and 49.5 percent on two-pointers. That's compared to 29.9 percent and 40.9 percent, respectively, from the start of the season through the end of December.

Illinois will have basically a brand new team in 2024-25, as Ty Rodgers and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn are the only two returning scholarship players. But Underwood is positive his team can be improved on the defensive end of the court even after losing its best defenders. Rodgers had the sixth-lowest defensive rating (low is good) last season. Gibbs-Lawhorn, who played sparingly, had the 12th lowest.

Defensive rating is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions. A defensive rating below 100 is good. Zero Illini fell into that category is 2023-24.

"I'm so fired up about Dravyn," Underwood said. "You saw my comfort with him as a freshman growing and growing at the end of the season. Elite defender. I think that Ty Rodgers has that ability to be an elite defender.

"I think our rim protection will be better. Carey (Booth) is elite — — and I think as we emphasize that it he has a very, very promising future on that end. I think Tomislav (Ivisic) helps protect the rim."

Underwood emphasized that the positional size Illinois boasts will help defensively. Shooting over long arms is inherently more difficult, and the Illini have plenty of them on a roster that goes 6-1, 6-2, 6-6, 6-6, 6-7, 6-9, 6-9, 6-10, 6-10, 7-1.

"I think we're in a really, really good place there," Underwood said about his team's defensive potential. "That's the area where chemistry has to happen the most, and it will be a point of emphasis for sure."