Mark Tupper's blog

Illini keep rolling, rock Wildcats

2013-02-17T21:46:00Z 2013-02-19T08:10:36Z Illini keep rolling, rock WildcatsMark Tupper Herald-Review.com
February 17, 2013 9:46 pm  • 

We’re all learning a lot about this Illini basketball team and, at the same time, we’re learning about this first-year Illini coaching staff.

In each case, fans should be pretty encouraged by what they’ve seen.

The team posted its fourth straight victory Sunday night in Evanston, using a rather amazing 26-0 run to orchestrate a 62-41 victory over Northwestern.

The Wildcats went almost 9½ minutes without scoring a point – a futile stretch that spanned from the last three minutes of the first half through the first six minutes of the second half. Missed shots and turnovers became the rule for the Cats as Illinois turned a 19-15 lead into a 45-15 runaway.

We’re learning that this is an improving team and that maybe – just maybe – old dogs can learn new tricks.

We’re seeing a new level of confidence and competence from a team that couldn’t find either last season.

And from the coaching staff, I like what I’ve seen as they meet Big Ten teams for a second time.

They certainly showed that against Minnesota and they made big adjustments against Northwestern.

I didn’t think Illinois did a very good job at all defending Northwestern in Champaign back on Jan. 17. That’s the night the Wildcats shot 47.2 percent and made eight 3-pointers in a 68-54 victory over the Illini.

But corrections were made Sunday. Players clearly were paying attention to the game plan and scouting report. And Northwestern shot 25 percent and needed three late 3-pointers to get to five.

“We’re more connected defensively,” big man Sam McLaurin said. “We talk a lot more now. Early in the season we weren’t talking at all defensively. We were just winning with our talent.

“Now we’re communicating out there and it has made us better.”

That’s why in a period of 11 days, Illinois has gone from 2-7 in the Big Ten to 6-7. And if Illinois takes care of business Thursday at home against Penn State, the Big Ten record will have evened at 7-7 and the overall victory total will have reached 20.

Those are NCAA Tournament numbers and that’s exactly what McLaurin is focused on.

“Our goal since the start of the season is this right here,” McLaurin said, pointing to a wrist band the team has been wearing since October. “Right here it says 3-19-13,” the first day of competition in the NCAA Tournament.

“That’s where we want to be.”

D.J. Richardson scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Illinois. And once again his defense set the tone.

“He’s playing amazing,” Brandon Paul said. “His confidence is through the roof.”

Interestingly, Paul scored just eight points, putting him in single digits for the second game in a row.

No worry, coach John Groce said. In fact, he heaped the praise on Paul.

“Brandon Paul had one of the best games he’s had all season,” Groce said. “That’s as good as he’s defended all year long, a really good all-around game.”

Groce also praised point guard Tracy Abrams, who had 13 points and four assists but who did not start because Joseph Bertrand inched him out on his defensive grade in practice.

“I’ll be honest, it was a deal where (Abrams) was almost a 70 percent gradeout, which on our scale is between an A and a B. Others just graded out higher.

“A month ago we had three of those guys fail on the grade,” Groce said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Groce reiterated that Illinois is an improving team, which begged the question: How much better can this team get?

“We can get better for sure,” he said. “A lot of it is mindset. Our execution continues to get better, but we still have a long ways to go.

“I have an unbelievable staff. We stayed the course when we were struggling and it helped that we’d been through some things at (Ohio University). We know what we’re doing works. We have a lot of confidence in it.

“I was a math teacher and I used to teach geometry. When students try to solve proofs, they couldn’t solve them unless they knew the theorems. Well, our guys are knowing them now. It’s gone from knowledge to habits and that’s a big difference.

“The maturation process is starting to happen with them.”

I never know to expect when I come to Northwestern. I’ve seen every kind of game here, including upsets and crazy endings.

But Illinois’ 26-0 run and blowout victory was pretty unexpected, too.

There were plenty or orange-clad fans in a Welsh-Ryan Arena crowd of 8,117.

That included a group of 150 from the Orange Krush student support group, who rode three buses and showed up wearing purple Northwestern shirts. They peeled those off in dramatic fashion just before the opening tipoff, revealing their orange Illini apparel.

Three of those clever Krush members even managed to get picked for a timeout competition in which participants were involved in a tricycle race. They wore their purple until the contest ended, then yanked up the shirts to show their orange, an embarrassing moment for the Wildcat game management staff.

I rate it as one of the great moments in Orange Krush history.

Thursday’s Illinois-Penn State game tips off at 7:15 p.m. and will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network. Penn State slipped to 8-17 and 0-13 in the Big Ten Sunday with a loss to Michigan.

Four regular-season games remain before the Big Ten Conference Tournament March 15-17 at the United Center in Chicago.

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(27) Comments

  1. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - February 21, 2013 2:31 pm
    assuming we play like we are capable, we should easily win 2 more conf games. I think 8-10 gets us in given our resume, toughness of schedule, and our wins vs top 30 teams.

    although the team has to focus one game at a time, the Iowa game is looming large. not only is it the difference between 8-10 (and probably making it) and 9-9 (a lock imo), but because of the placement on the schedule - it also might make a big difference in the teams confidence going into the Big 10 tourney.

    Win that game and we will have won 7 of our last 9. Lose it and we will have lost 3 of the last 4. like everyone else, I hope we have seen the last of the team that was shooting with no confidence and not figuring out how to play even simple defense. unfortunately, at the end of the season with 3 of the last 4 games being on the road - we are going to find out the answers to those questions. I really hope Groce has them tuned in and starting to figure things out and to trust the staff, the system, and each other.

    could be a fun ride in March. amazing that we are even talking about what a shot in the arm it would be to make the tournament. and how great it would be to win 1 game. and if we get to the sweet 16, there will be total euphoria.
  2. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 21, 2013 2:04 pm
    Rosco - I'll also be watching in comfort from home.
  3. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 21, 2013 12:33 pm
    dhab, I don't know what happened to OSU, but if your trying to suggest that Northwestern was a good team we beat, I ain't buying it. If they would of had to play Indiana or the msu team the other night, that would of been really ugly. Were not as bad as we looked there for awhile, but were also not consistant enough to be what I would call a good team. We are though playing better at a time when we really needed to. About tonight, this team is not good enough to take anybody lightly. We should win. Right now VA Jack has seemed to be predicting are games pretty close. He is saying we will win tonight. Ihope he is right, because I see some tougher times ahead, and wins, any wins, is what we need the most.
  4. Rosco
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    Rosco - February 21, 2013 9:55 am
    Pistol....looks like I'll be riding this one out at home. Too much travel for too little $$$ in iffy weather. hoping for another DD win.

    peace brother
  5. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - February 20, 2013 9:42 am
    I wonder if Izzo will have to endure listening to fans enlighten him about how to improve freethrow shooting?
    The Illini have got some real positives going for them right now, obviously the win streak and a strong finish but also strength of schedual which is #6 in the nation right now. Since we will still likely only finish in the middle of the B1G pack our schedual strength might be the deciding factor. We could end up tied with Iowa if that tells you anything? Those 7 losses put us in quite a hole.
  6. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 20, 2013 5:47 am
    Had to go with Richard Vitale, the profantiy filter will not allow one to use his more common first name :) crk
  7. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 20, 2013 5:46 am
    Rumor has it that Bobby Knight is out on ESPN basketball. I always thought he gave well-measured insightful commentary that actually helped the viewer understand the game. I used to be a Richard Vitale fan, and his work with the Jimmy V foundation is amazing, but last night his non-stop monologue was getting in the way of enjoying the game. crk
  8. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 20, 2013 5:44 am
    Just as we are improving, it looked like the Whosiers and Michigan State have also improved. A good sign that Groce is able to "teach and reach" players which may have been lacking in the past. The Indiana-Michigan State game really showed the type of intensity that is necessary to win this time of year, a battle on almost every play, a great game. crk

  9. dhaab
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    dhaab - February 20, 2013 2:07 am
    To all of those fans who say "but this NW team is weak and injured with no good players", I would reply that same team played at OSU last week and was tied with them with 2 minutes left in the game. The Princeton offense is always tough to defend and Carmody teaches it as well as anyone in the country. This Illini team has FINALLY turned the corner defensively and is shutting teams down for long stretches. I never thought I'd see the day when Tyler Griffey could miss 5 three pointers, yet still play a solid overall game. Groce seems to be reaching this group of guys and turning around many negative parts of their games. Great time to be an Illini!!
  10. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - February 19, 2013 5:50 pm
    A short hospital stay.===MIKEY,PSU a win.TNT gets it done.Illini look at thier record of losses and not thier improvement in those losses.===Illini 73 PSU 65
  11. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 19, 2013 12:15 pm
    Rosco - If the sleet & freezing rain starts Thursday afternoon very much before the game & makes the roads very slick, I'll probably eat my tickets & stay home. Will have to see how things are by then.
  12. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - February 19, 2013 11:59 am
    agree on NW injury status....but as Red in blue state pointed out they were tied AT osu with only 3 mins to play just last wk (after the Swopshire injury). we did what we needed to do - go on the road and beat a team that was definitely inferior to us. but I like it that we didn't take this game for granted and really came out and thrashed them.

    ron - I did notice Paul making better decisions when driving sunday. he kicked the ball out much better than he has in the past imo.

    also ron - I was also unable to get into the blog a couple weeks ago. one easy solution is to open your browser, go into your internet options, and delete your browsing history. there are usually several check boxes. I do not check the box titled "delete browsing history", but I definitely delete the temporary internet files and the cookies. both these things clear up a lot of other issues and I think it also clears out how many times you have visited the site. I think this is what triggers the "get a subscription" message.
  13. Evergreen
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    Evergreen - February 19, 2013 11:40 am
    A win is a win, but the NW team that we played was with only 8 scholarship players available.
    This wsa a mismatch. The three ball got them like it can get us. We also have stopped trying to switch and started to fight through the picks. This is the reason for the D improvement along with better dribble pressure.
    I get tired of people saying we do not have the talent of others. Sure, we may not be exactly as good, but the kids we have are good enough to beat anyone anyday. It comes down to good coaching and kids that will do what the coach says. Paul should have been a forward, I will never go back on that. How much different is he than a Henry, or a confused Griffey that thinks he is a guard. His jumping underneath and body control would have made him more valuable than his dribbling around and shooting bad shots. He took 5 very bad shots at NW. Watch the tape and see.
    Finally, we are rebounding because the players are anticipating the correct shot is taken. That is all rebound really is, Going to get the ball when you are sure you will not be passed to. Richardsons improvement is because he is shooting the ball when he wants to, vs getting too close to a defender or too far out on a 3.
  14. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - February 19, 2013 9:39 am
    One more morning post before I go to the valley below. Kudos to DJ. He has become the player we always hoped he could be!
  15. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - February 19, 2013 9:31 am
    crkcrk2, for those of us stuck in the middle between give Weber more time(Brooks) and those who said time is up(BBJ), this was a tough board to particiapte in.( And BBJ you were right). I for one couldn't stand it anymore and flat out quit. I hope we don't have to go back to that to get board participation up. Although it does seem like a ghost town here compared to the past.
    I really believe we finally have a coach who understands the mental part of this game of which I didn't fully understand myself. The turn around over the last several games says a lot. This team could have quit like it did last year under Weber, but as we see they have no plans of quiting. We have been looking for a coach who can get" the most" out of his players, now I'm as snakebit as anybody but I think we've found one.
  16. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 19, 2013 9:00 am
    http://espn.go.com/chicago/story/_/id/8959388/john-groce-illinois-fighting-illini-rolling-right-time

    crk
  17. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 19, 2013 4:57 am
    If you do not have a print subscription, it is $5.95 a month after the first month. I imagine that is why participation on this blog is down I would guess 50%. I imagine not having Bruce Weber to kick around anymore accounts for some of the declining interest. People who do not live in Central Illinois are not likely going to pay $72 a year to post to a blog. The paper might consider requiring those who want access to the blog watch a couple of short commercials, rather than driving readers away completely . A real difficult problem for newspapers. crk
  18. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 18, 2013 5:43 pm
    ronh - Everyone has been getting those messages about paying to view these online pages for quite some time. I know a guy from the paper who used the term "metered usage" which means you get so many free pages/month, then you have to pay or don't get access. He said every paper is doing it because of dwindling print subscriptions. My wife & I have a print subscription, so we're getting monthly digital access for 99 cents, which seems fair to me.
    =
    Hope we don't take PSU lightly, especially since they played so well at Mich. That might have been a good thing that the Illini coaching staff can use to prepare for them.
    =
    Heard a funny little thing last week. A friend has a friend who can't pronounce Egwu, so he calls him Igloo & he thinks he has it right.
  19. Rosco
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    Rosco - February 18, 2013 4:20 pm
    Mikey..agree my friend. I was amazing that we limited the back doors and hand off 3's. The D clogged those passing and cutting lanes all night.

    BBJ...good job predicting or was it Jack? Double digit win. NW played more like the freshmen there are than against OSU. THey never got into their offense. We missed a bunch of bunnies and FT"s but no haunting this time.

    SAw Penn St give Michigan fits at Michigan. Hope it's a repeat and they used there juice up. Penn St has some big bodies and likes to roam the paint. GLad BP's mini meltdown didn't cost us much. Also gald he gave up the rock on the fast breaks instead of hero ball. That first one to TA really didn't look like a pass, just kinda floated out of his hands and TA was there to get the bucket. Saw BP grinning big after that like he planned it.

    DJ has the eye of the Tiger. TG where have you been Joe dimagio? Wow he is crashing the boards and attacking the rim. Glad to see the bench cleared with 3 min left.

    On to Penn St

    peace brothers
  20. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 18, 2013 3:19 pm
    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/02/15/ex-illini-standout-jereme-richmond-sentenced-to-8-days-in-jail/

    Jeremy is the "stalag" for 4 to 8 days, parole violation.
  21. ronh
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    ronh - February 18, 2013 12:33 pm
    Pretty good win but NW is just devastated with injury and other issues. I wonder about Bertrand too. He seems to be playing about like he did early in the year. In fact he may not be shooting as well now. He is rebounding very well and driving fairly well. Paul seems to be playing team ball a little better but he still doesn't know how to distribute it and when to do so. Most on this team have that problem.
    New subject. I was kept out of this blog for a week with the paper wanting me to pay to get into the blog. Do they really think that is going to happen? Anyone else have that problem?
  22. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 18, 2013 11:53 am
    BJones is right lets not do excited over a 26 point run when playing a team decimated by injuries and playing freshmen, who do not play "Northwestern" basketball as good as it has been played in the past yet.

    I was wondering are we going to be able to beat a good team when we are shooting 28% and 30% from the 3 point line.

    We beat Indiana because we had 5 less turnovers and shot 37.5% from 3 point line Will better defense and rebounding be enough?

    I watched a lot of basketball the past week. Big 10 teams seem to play much stronger defense than a lot of teams in other conferences. crk

  23. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 18, 2013 10:28 am
    Red in a Blue state, Hit on what I was thinking. Putting things in perspective, that was a bad Northwestern team. We cannot allow those close to basket misses, or the turnovers and half court misses by Paul, and expect to win against most of the other teams in the conference. That said, a win is a win, and at this point, we need every win we can get. I thought Groce did a pretty good job of sitting Paul at times, and he played much better in the second half. Paul and Abrams still do to much "hero ball", but are doing better getting there teammates involved. I'm starting to wonder about Bertrand. You no some players hit a level of play, and never get much better. I'm not so sure that Bertrand and Egwu might not be players like that. I hope not. Egwu moves pretty good, but he is not much of a jumper. Has he won very many jump balls to start a game???
  24. namber
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    namber - February 18, 2013 10:18 am
    Granted NW was undermanned with injuries and discipline. OTOH, we completely stymied their offense. No backdoor cuts, no wide open threes, and no switches that left a big trying to block the path of a quick guard. Had they lost because they missed layups and missed open threes I would say that they lost because of personnel loses. As it turned out we completely corralled the vaunted Princeton attack.
  25. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - February 18, 2013 9:33 am
    How could anybody compete with two starters out and three freshman starting. NW showed us. Good for us we caught a break. A dubya is a dubya and in this conference I'll take it. I'm still trying to figure out how this same under manned NW team was tied with (at) OSU with a few minutes left a few nights back, does that mean good things for us? Dare I say we are peaking at the right time. We are so snakebit it's almost scary to say.
    A few more wins and we'll be talking about tourney seeding. Last year it was bubble talk, then well there is always the NIT, to nothing, YUCK! I hope you are right Pistol Pete that we don't see that other Illini team again. We've avenged two home losses so far let's see it we can get one at Michigan.
    Thanks Coach Groce for building some serious GOODWILL.
  26. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 18, 2013 8:32 am
    I can't add much to what Mark said. I don't think we'll see that bad Illini team again. They might get beat, but I don't think they'll beat themselves with some of that terrible play like we saw for a while.
  27. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - February 18, 2013 6:07 am
    I don't care who we were playing, that 26-0 stretch was impressive. A 10-0 run to end the 1st half and a 16-0 run to start the 2nd half in which NW didn't score until with 13 minutes and some change on the clock. Very impressive! Holding the other team to 25% shooting is outstanding. I like the way these guys are playing defense, contesting shots just about every time the other team shoots. I know a lot of us, and Basketball Jones actually said it in an earlier post wondered which team would show up last night and we got our answer. This team didn't overlook NW and they appear to be in the right mindset. PSU is next and its time to stomp them too. I'd give the game ball to the ILLINI Coaching Staff.
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