ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Brad Underwood isn’t promising the changes he’ll make to the starting lineup today will steer his Illini basketball team to victory.
But he’s seen enough of awful starts with the recent lineup to know he doesn’t want to see more of the same.
“There will be some changes,” Underwood confirmed Friday afternoon. “I haven’t totally decided what they’ll be. We worked on two or three different things yesterday and today. It will be a game-time decision.”
After opening Wednesday night’s game at Minnesota by making just 1 of 19 shots, Underwood switched up his lineup to begin the second half. He moved two freshmen into the lineup – guards Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams – and put sophomore Te’Jon Lucas and graduate transfer Mark Alstork on the bench.
Underwood said whatever changes he makes will be designed to get the offense pointed in a better direction.
“Our problems aren’t defensively,” he said.
Underwood said fans worry far more about the starting lineup than he does, and he said he’s also considering what impact any changes will have on his bench.
“Trent gave us a spark coming in and Da’Monte gave us a spark,” he said, likely tipping his hand on the changes he has in mind. “The ball moves better with those guys in the lineup, so we’ll see.
“I have always tried to put guys out there who gave us the best defensive approach to what we do. Mark Alstork has been incredible on the defensive end. He impacted the (Minnesota) game tremendously in the second half.
“And you try to find guys who have chemistry together. Plus I like to bring firepower off our bench.”
Underwood said it’s understandable that most of the recent conversation has been about slow starts. Illinois fell behind by 20 in the first half at Minnesota before closing the lead to four points in the second half before losing 77-67.
But a bright spot has been the play of the bench.
“We’ve had one of the most productive benches in the country,” Underwood said. “With Aaron Jordan, Trent and Da’Monte and look at what Greg (Eboigbodin) did the other night.” Eboigbodin scored a career-best nine points.
Underwood knows the Illini will have to be defensively sharp today against a Michigan team that is riding a six-game winning streak.
“They’re extremely efficient offensively,” he said. “You’re talking about a team that is tremendously unselfish. Their offensive system is something I want to get our guys to do.
“I want to shoot it from all five positions and they have the mentality to do that. This is a team that has been together. They’ve obviously been in that system. They’re a well-oiled machine on the offensive end.”
Underwood learned about Michigan’s offensive efficiency first-hand last season. The final game he coached at Oklahoma State was an NCAA Tournament game against Michigan in Indianapolis. Michigan won a shootout, 92-91.
And while three of today’s starters for the Wolverines were major players in that game, a new face is Charles Matthews, a 6-6 junior guard from Chicago St. Rita who started is college career at Kentucky and transferred, sitting out last season before making his Michigan debut in November.
Matthews has fit in quickly and leads the Wolverines in scoring.