CHAMPAIGN — It's no secret that Brad Underwood wants his team to get out and run.
Actually, the goal of most college coaches is to push the pace and crank 3-pointers out, but the Illini do it and do it well.
Pace is a staple of this team. Prior to last Saturday's game against East Tennessee State, Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier said that Illinois (4-7) had used an increased amount of practice time after a difficult opening portion of its schedule to run and "get back to seven seconds or less."
Underwood said the team has had just one game this year where the team has scored under 20 points while scoring in seven seconds or less, and has had games where the Illini score at least 40 points while scoring in seven seconds or less.
More practice means Illinois can work on more drills to focus on defensive rebounding and limiting fouls in an effort to get out and run. If those happen, Underwood said, transition points will come when combined with the high turnover rate Illinois forces teams in to.
"We've got to be a better defensive rebounding team and we've got to quit fouling. Those are things that take away or negate running," Underwood said.
Illinois ranks 54th in the country in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.com. Adjusted tempo is an estimate of possessions per 40 minutes that a team would have against a team that plays at an average Division I tempo.
When Illinois travels to St. Louis for the annual Braggin' Rights game against Missouri at 7 p.m. Saturday, tempo will be key. The Tigers, under second-year coach Cuonzo Martin, rank 328th in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.
“We always want to get teams out of their comfort zone, considering the way we play," Illinois senior Aaron Jordan said. "That will be different for them. They may know how we play — it’s on film and some have been a part of it — but it’s not something you can really prepare for."
Some of Missouri's slow style is by design in an effort to establish sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon in the post. Tilmon signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Illinois before being granted his release from the program in 2017. The other is to avoid turnovers — the Illini rank 16th in the nation in forced turnovers.
“I’d like to get up and down more and we talk about that in practice,” Martin told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That’s our guards getting up and down the floor. But also you have to be smart in situations to give Jeremiah a chance, a chance to score the ball. Some of that has to do with when you turn the ball over at a high rate. Let’s make sure we get good shots. We have to get good shots. It’s one thing to run fast, but when you turn the ball over you don’t give yourself a chance to win the game. You have to be sound. But I’d like to get up and down more.”
Underwood was cautious to simply chalk the Tigers up as a team that operates at a slow pace. There are other factors that go into the game.
"Pace can be a rather deceiving statistic," Underwood said. "The one thing they do a great job of is pushing early in offense under seven seconds and shooting 3s. Mark (Smith), (Jordan) Geist, (Javon) Pickett, (Torrence) Watson — all those guys do a very good job of taking shots.
"Once they do settle into the half-court, there's no doubt they have a heavy emphasis trying to get the ball to Tilmon."
Each of the four players Underwood named shoot at least 47 percent of their shots as 3-pointers, according to hoops-math.com, with Watson being the highest, taking 69.6 percent of his total shots from 3-point land.
No matter the opponent, Illinois players thrive on playing their own fast-paced style of game.
“Tempo is to our advantage," Jordan said. "We like to get up and down and we like to get out and run. Our point guards are quick and wings get our and run and move the ball up. When we’re scoring in transition, we’re a hard team to beat."