I couldn't possibly agree more. Great analysis!I absolutely agree that effort is key. But I think fans often just see a lack of effort and ignore the opponent and execution factors. Even if you are playing with effort, you still have to execute your game plan (and lack of execution is not always a function of lack of effort or focus) against an opponent that is trying to stop you from doing what you’re trying to do. An example from the first half last night was Ayo’s attempted lob over the zone to Kofi, which NU deflected away. I think Ayo made the right read and decision, but his pass was just a little lower than it needed to be and NU made a good play. If it was a few inches higher, Kofi gets a dunk. I don’t think the turnover was a result of lack of effort from Ayo. On defense in the first half, there were probably several breakdowns, but NU also made a lot of shots off of good offensive execution where there was little our defenders could have done differently given our defensive scheme.
We did clearly need to play with more focus than the first half last night. But I’d imagine that the coaching at halftime involved more than just instruction to play harder. Good coaching is about pointing out the specific breakdowns in execution, tweaking the game plan to address the opponent, and communicating this effectively to the players. Without this, imploring players to simply play harder doesn’t do much good.
I guess my point is that while the Illini had some mental lapses in the first half, the halftime score was probably as much a function of NU playing well as it was UI’s lack of effort. In the second half, we clearly picked up the intensity. But a lot of the difference also came from making some shots, offensive rebounding (which does involve effort but also involves luck in how the ball comes off the rim) and poor execution from NU (which probably resulted in part from UI effort but also in part from tweaks to our offensive and defensive schemes and to NU just having a bad half).