John Groce has a new challenge as head coach of the Illini basketball team.
So far this season, he’s wanted his team to look at each step, study the shortcomings, learn and improve.
He’ll want some of that after Illinois got clobbered at Wisconsin Wednesday, 95-70. But the new challenge is to get his team to shove this one into the rear view mirror pretty quickly because a hangover from what happened in Madison simply can’t infect what Illinois hopes to do next on Sunday in Evanston.
Wednesday pretty much a disaster.
Wisconsin led 13-10 and while Illinois was struggling through an 0-for-13 shooting drought, the Badgers scored on eight of 11 possessions and ripped off a 20-0 run that pumped that lead up to 33-10 in a matter of minutes.
Groce called timeouts during the run but he didn’t like the look of his team during the timeouts nor did he like their response on the court.
“That’s not like us,” he said. “But for some reason tonight we just didn’t respond.”
Groce credited Wisconsin, as well he should. And he pointed to the big difference between the team’s 2-point shooting.
Wisconsin made 24 of 38 shots from 2-point distance. Illinois, on the other hand, made just 20 of 60.
Illinois whipped Wisconsin on the glass, 48-35, and had 25 offensive rebounds. But the Illini missed just about every kind of rebound, put-back and tip-dunk imaginable.
A lot of teams will be losing to Wisconsin and I’ll be paying attention because I believe the Badgers could go on a pretty good run. A look at their schedule reveals they do not play at Michigan State nor do they play at Ohio State this season. Those would be two trouble spots the schedule-maker says they can avoid.
I know Michigan State and Ohio State are the darlings of the national media and maybe it will turn out that way. But I won’t be even a little bit surprised if Wisconsin is trying to wrap up the Big Ten championship in March.
And speaking of March, again look at the Wisconsin schedule. The Badgers final three games are at Penn State, at home vs. Purdue and at Nebraska.
By comparison, Michigan State finishes at home against Illinois, at home against Iowa and at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have just two games in March – at Indiana and at home against Michigan State.
I think the championship is Wisconsin’s to lose.
And although I normally don’t think Wisconsin is built for NCAA Tournament success, this team is different. This team is better suited offensively. I think this is Bo Ryan’s best Badger team and if his group can stay healthy, I like their chances, especially as Nigel Hayes sheds his freshman skin.