5 crushing observations from the Illinois basketball loss to UConn

The Illinois basketball team felt the wrath of the best team in the college game on Saturday night.
Mar 30, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood reacts with guard
Mar 30, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood reacts with guard / Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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4. The big man continued to be the Illini bugaboo

My mindset coming into the game on Saturday was that UConn should be handled like Purdue. They have a similar construct, so let’s figure out what we do against the Boilermakers and implement it against the Huskies.

The thing with that is, we haven’t been able to beat Purdue with Zach Edey. The Illini are 0-5 against the Boilermakers when Edey is starting, and the trend of losing against solid big men continued in the Elite 8.

UConn trotted out 7-foot-2, 280-pound big man Donovon Clingan. He averaged 12.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks this season. He was playing pretty well over the past couple of weeks as well. But on Saturday, Clingman dominated Illinois.

The Huskies' big man ended the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, three steals, and one assist. He didn’t have a single turnover and only fouled Illinois one time. Clingan shot 9-of-13 from the field, and he got whatever he wanted against any size for the Illini.

There is a tradeoff when you go with a stretch No. 5. When you have someone at the center position who can shoot the basketball and stretch the floor, they tend to lack defensively when going up against a traditional big man.

Illinois has run into that in the past couple of seasons. We don’t have the firepower to slow down a big man who backs our No. 5 down in the paint. This results in easy buckets and momentum for the opposing team. My hope is that with someone like Morez Johnson Jr. coming in, who is only 6-foot-9 but is pretty strong, and Amani Hansberry getting a bigger role next season, Illinois will have more success against big men.