Over the years we’ve learned that anything is possible and trends can be reversed.

But I’m bracing for what could be a serious and prolonged Illini basketball tailspin after Wednesday night’s 66-58 loss to Purdue. Maybe a full-fledged free fall.

It was Illinois’ third straight loss but more important than that, it was the second in a row against opponents in games I believe most people had penciled in as victories.

Illinois needed to beat Northwestern on Sunday and Purdue on Wednesday because it needed to bank some equity and have a 5-1 start to Big Ten play heading into what now looms as a five-game gauntlet.

As I said, anything is possible, but I would now project Illinois to be 0-5 in that stretch with Ray Rice playing hard and somewhat effectively, but seeming to lose his bounce and lack his edge as Wednesday’s game went on.

Rice, of course, is dealing with an abductor strain – a hip-groin injury he incurred Sunday against the Wildcats. To his credit, he played 36 minutes and was nearly always active. I thought he looked very good early, slicing through traffic to score Illinois’ second basket of the game, then hitting a 3-pointer a short while later.

But Rice did not score a basket in the final 34 minutes of the game and although he finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, he wasn’t his usual dynamic self. And I don’t know if he can quickly recapture that with more games coming.

This is an offensively challenged Illini team. Nnanna Egwu is in an awful shooting slump. He was 0-for-7 Wednesday even though most of his shots were very decent looks.

Jon Ekey made 2 of his 5 3-pointers, which is good, but they had to run plays for him to get open.

What had Groce so honked off was the way Illinois got man-handled on the glass in the second half. Illinois was leading the rebounding battle at halftime, 21-19. But Purdue won overall, 42-28. That means in the second half Purdue whipped Illinois on the boards, 23-7.

“Give them the credit because they got the job done, but we were absolutely awful on the backboard,” Groce seethed.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable to get beat up like that in the second half. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can win like that. You can’t let them throw you around like rag dolls. That’s ridiculous. We got abused on the backboard.”

And Illinois had a chance to pick up nine points at the free throw line with three one-and-ones and a 3-point try after Joe Bertrand was fouled shooting a 3-pointer.

But Rice, Bertrand and Ekey each missed the front end of their one-and-one attempts and Bertrand made just one of his three. So Illinois cashed in one of its potential nine free throw points in the final eight minutes of the game.

The play of freshmen Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn was encouraging, especially Hill in the first half. He finished with seven points and five rebounds and Nunn had eight points.

I say play them more.

Illinois also had 12 turnover, which is not an alarming number. But four or five of them were painful and costly.

Purdue’s big man, A.J. Hammons, did a really nice job offensively and as the backstop for their defense. He had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks and he discouraged Illinois’ drives to the basket.

I would expect some very physical practices the next couple days as Illinois prepares for a Michigan State team is always physical on the glass.

Illinois was in a mess last year when it upset No. 1-ranked Indiana, but that was not a team as offensively challenged as this group.

It’s possible another miracle could be in the works. I just don’t see it.

(23) comments

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

And the song that really thrills me.
And fills my heart with joy.
Is that good old "wait till next year"
That they sing at Illinois.
crk

Shark
Shark

Let me answer your question - YES
Some observations
- without Rice this team is not very good
- Egwu shot a few threes early in the year and fell in love with it, ouch
- Egwu is not an offensive weapon, partly why all our second chance points don't convert
- we shoot a very flat ball to a man. Ekey, Bertrand especially. Both shot so flat at the free throw line missing the front end of 1 & 1 it made me question who coached these guys to shoot the previous 3 years. Not just fee-throws, all shots but Bertrand understands his limitations and scores mostly on drives.
- Purdue had more athletic players, quicker under the basket, and shot well in traffic, sort, high arching shots and they used the backboard a lot.
- Malcolm Hill has a nice high-arching shot. I like his game, yes still plays a bit like a freshman but I can see his upside. Nunn has played well too and he is super quick on defense. He is letting the game come to him more. Tate is ok but needs to learn that when he draws defense to find the open man. When we drive we don't tend to dish, and end up drawing defense and shooting a difficult shot among bigs.
- If we want to compete in the big10 we need a better center, better ball movement and assists, better outside shooters, and better players overall. Snacks is at Kansas and helped get Big Cliff from us. Parker didn't come, and the in-state players that don't come to Illinois will assure us that we will stay middle of the pack.

I don't think we make the NCAA Tourney this year despite beating a good Mizzou team and cracking the top 25 at one point.

Orlando Illini
Orlando Illini

Instead of 'song' and 'sing', the words are 'cheer' and 'yell.'

Still, it's a perfect observation. 47 years after my frosh year at the UofI, I now question if there is a reason to be an llini fan. Combined, that's 94 seasons of Bball and football and how many seasons have ended well for the Illini? Maybe 6 or 7 in football, maybe12 or 14 in Bball.

Bball may get better starting 2 or 3 years from now, but without a center and point guard it will be essentially more of the same. High school winners come to Illinois, then become losers. Top talent always goes elsewhere.

Football may not ever recover. If its does, it will not be in this decade and at 65 I doubt I will live long enough to see it. Even second- and third-tier talent goes elsewhere, and the Illini compete with division 2 and division 3 schoolsfor recruits.

The University does not make athletics a priority.A $150 million re-do of Memorial Stadium results in 6,000 fewer seats, which says much about expectations for the future. I watched the Assembly Hall being built and still love the building, but a $100 million+ redo will probably reduce seating capacity there, also. Admissions policies require many recruits to be un-recruitable.

Now living 1,000 miles from campus, I can't attend games so I spend money for BTN coverage to witness (and experience) disappointment and despair.

After 47 years, I ask: what's the point of being an Illini fan? It is worse than being a Cubs fan.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Why do you think this team is playing worse than last years team?

Rice is playing and scoring as well as Paul, probably playing better defense.
Abrams is probably playing better than last year.
Bertrand is playing at the same level as last year
Egwu is not playing any better or worse.
Ekey is pretty comparable to Griffey.
I suspect no one picking up Richardson's 10 to 12 ppg.
Bench contributions might be a little stronger this year

Thoughts? crk

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

Went to the game last night & am stunned.....can't manage to muster the energy to evaluate right now.
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sugmeister
sugmeister

you have my condolences Pete..... I could at least suffer in the comfort of my own home. and not pay to do so.
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CRK - I don't think overall we are playing any worse than last yr. EXCEPT for these last 3 games. the Wisc game I can take because they are very good (especially at home). but these other 2 - wow. disgraceful.
so when you compare season stats, I agree that egwu and others are comparable to exactly what you said. but when you compare these last 2 games (against POOR competition no less) so the season numbers - they come up sorely lacking.

sugmeister
sugmeister

I am a big John Groce fan and was very critical of weber. and I am a believer in Groce's motivational skills and recruiting approach. but having said that..... Groce has some "splainin' to do":

if weber was the coach and we played zone for 2 possessions and purdue looked bad and failed to score and then we went away from it and they drove the ball into the lane easily because they were quicker than us - I'd be mad at weber.

If our 2 freshmen were key in a rally to get us the lead by halftime but then barely played the 2nd half while we threw away a lead and the starters looked gassed - I'd be mad at weber.

if we didn't make a single substitution the last 7-8 minutes of the game and completely gassed our starters - I'd be mad at Weber.

if we played that same zone the first possession of the 2nd half and again with about 5 mins to play and purdue looked bad and failed to score again but we didn't even try it other than those 2 times - I'd be mad at weber.

if weber allowed our center to continue to shoot 3 pt shots when he can't even make short shots and also had him setting high screens then rolling to the lane and drawing the shot-blocking opponent with him while our guards are trying to drive resulting in bad plays again and again - I'd be mad at weber.

weber's not the coach anymore..... but I'm still mad. my uncle sent me an email pointing out that our 2 centers played 40 mins, scored ZERO pts, and 4 rebs, while their centers played 39 mins, had 17 pts and 8 rebs.

Basketball Jones
Basketball Jones

sugmiester, I think you gave the stats for Hammond only. If you add in his backup, I think their center actually scored 24pts, and had 13rbs. Your right about questioning Groce and some of his coaching. Your not going to make any improvement in this BB team until you replace Egwu, Abrams and Bertrand. I am really confused in why Nunn and Hill didn't play more. Both really played some of their best ball in the first half and were rewarded with a seat on the bench for most of the second half. Did I miss something and Bertrand, Egwu and Ekey were playing to well to take out in the second half? How many more times do we have to watch Abrams throw up circus shots, or Egwu miss another three, before we see Groce yank them and give them a tounge lashing and some bench time. I have always liked Groce, but so far this season he has me wondering?? I know Groce don't have much to work with, so play the freshmen. The only way we get back to being a decent BB team again is on the freshmens shoulders.

sugmeister
sugmeister

your numbers are correct BBJ. I didn't check the numbers my uncle sent me. should have. that makes things even WORSE!!
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FT shooting was also really bad again. FT shooting should have cost us the Mizzou game earlier in the season.
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I'm trying to really hide how upset I am by the last 2 losses.... is it working?

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

I imagine during the next several games we are going to here a lot of themes that have been pretty common over the years. 1) play the freshmen (which Weber never did) 2) just donot t have the horses to pull the wagon (lack talent).

I have probably said this in years past, but how can Illinois consistently get basketball players, who have likely been playing since age 5, who are not good shooters?

Just about every team one watches on ESPN has at least a couple of good shooters and generally players who are noticeably more athletic.

if any of the freshmen can shoot, lets give them a shot.

What happened to the up-basketball we were supposed to see with Groce?

Mikeydamouth
Mikeydamouth

Is this the start of an Illini free fall? Hmmmmm, nope. The free fall started last week at Wisconsin. I sat with Pistol, his bro in-law and DecIllini and from the beginning of the game til the end I must have said, "They are killing us inside" 10 times. When Hammons wasn't schooling Egwu and Morgan their guards had several unmolested layups on drives. Not enough help cover help. Should have played more zone and collapsed inside. I think we missed 3 straight on the front end of 1 and 1's at the free throw line in the 2nd half and then Bertrand made 1 of 3 after getting fouled late on a 3 pointer. Also, another observation in the 2nd half, the Boilers would run the clock down, shoot, miss, get the rebound and start all over again. Shoot miss, get the rebound and start all over again, then shoot and make a bucket. Thats like what, almost a minute and a half of possesion? They killed us inside not only scoring but rebounding on their offensive end.....coupled with our key misses at the FT line. I think Rice scored 1 point in the 2nd half. He is not 100% from that injury but obviously it wasn't bad enough to not play. Its going to be a long season. Hang in there, help is on the way. Paul, Cosby, Starks next year and I am hearing great things about Leron Black. We will see about next year but its going to be a long season this year....like you guys don't know that already! Orlando Illini.......why you ask yourself or us on being an Illini fan? Because you have loyalty and even though you are frustrated like the rest of us, I am confident you will hang in there too. May the basketball gods shine the light on us the rest of the year.

Walter
Walter

The talent level is a limitation. The veterans aren't going to get much better by the end of the season, but the freshman might. If you want to "up" the talent level, it might be time to take a gamble and start playing the freshmen more. What's the worst that could happen? Lose to Northwestern? Exactly!

Also, Ray Rice takes far too many bad, forced and quick shots and often prevents the offense from generating good shots for himself or his teammates. Ray is a scorer and we need him to score. But Ray needs trust his teammates and do a better job of working into the team's offense with the goal of creating more and better shots for himself AND his teammates.

buck526
buck526


Report Abuse buck526 - 1 hour ago This team is easy to guard. They have become a team of one on one players and there is no team work involved. Maybe, we set a high screen but nothing else. It's very easy to defend when you know the guy that has the ball is going to drive to the basket and shoot and that's what is happening right now. Ekey has become a poorer version of Tyler Griffey. Our starting center fades away from contact and has made 2 threes all year but that doesn't stop him from chucking them up or the coach talking about how improved he is every year. Well, prove it! Have you even shot a FT in big ten play, Egwu? My biggest fear is we have a coach that can recruit but not do the X's and O's portion of the game which is just the opposite of BW who could coach but couldn't recruit to save his bottom. Presently, I do not see this team winning more than 5 games in Big Ten play and definitely no chance of going to NCAA tourney.Reply




buck526
buck526

I decided to check and our six foot eleven inch center has taken 3 FT's in Big Ten play. 3 frigging FT's in 5 Big Ten games! And, he is shooting 5 for 22 in three point shooting. If only there was a better option on the bench.

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

You all have covered everything I have thought or would have said. I also love Groce, sug, but you're right on the money about the things he should have done differently, so I won't repeat them.
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I agree, Jones, about Abrams, Egwu, & Bertrand. I don't think Groce would have recruited any of them. At least Hill & Nunn should get more PT. They are the freshmen who are playing the best right now, but Tate & Morgan will improve if they get more PT.
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Everything crk said...................
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Everything Mikey said...............
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Everything Walter said..............
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Everything Buck said................
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I think Mikey answered some of crk's ???????. We have better players & shooters coming, but we said that with Weber. too. I think we actually do this time.
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Yes, we have become a very predictable, easy-to-guard, one-on-one team with very few assists.
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Your displeasure is leaking, sug.
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There, I feel a little better, but not a whole lot.

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

Would the Cliffs come to Illinois if Self was still here? We would not have had Deron and Dee without Bill, nor have we had that talent level since. I do realize that Weber did not leave Groce in the same shape Kruger left Self. But Self picked up the ball and ran with it quick. So I do believe great players will come to Illinois. The verdict is still out on Groce. We'll see if transfer U is good enough.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Its one thing not to play freshmen when a team is winning and competing in every game..

But if your team is getting "beat like a drum" every game, it sends a bad message to potential recruits.

Mediocre upperclassmen alwasy play ahead of freshmen at Illinois. crk

Rosco
Rosco

Hello my friends. Been a while since posting. Can't really find fault with most sentiments expressed. Add a couple of thoughts. Maybe Groce was trying to support his starters keeping them in and saying "I know you guys will get the job done". They didn't.

IMO the one dimensionalish aspect of our offense is because the players aren't able to learn/execute anything of a higher nature. Groce has said as much. Collectively this team has poor handles, poor BBIQ, doesn't use screens effectively, can't pass effectively etc.

While I think the NW loss was more on Groce, make FT's, block out on the boards and we have ourselves a W. Those are player issues.

I'm going to the Wisky and Michigan games, so let me know if anyone else might be there and we might be able to meet up ahead of time or at the game.

peace brothers

Tendonitis Tom
Tendonitis Tom

I'm as frustrated as anyone here. I think I see all the deficiencies in individual players and the team offense that everyone else sees. But let's keep in mind that we've lost 5 games, and 4 of those were pretty tight games, including PU. We could and should have won those 4. So is it even close to accurate to say we're getting beat like a drum every game? Groce wants to go to the tourney. Don't you, up to this point, have to let him try to win games with who he sees as the players giving him the best chance to do that? IMO, complaining about Groce not having already replaced TA, NE, and JB is nonsensical. The guys behind them are frosh, and none of them is named Jabari. Had we replaced the above three with their frosh replacements earlier in the season we'd have a whole lot more than 5 losses right now. Groce is establishing his program his way. He's a people guy; it's what make him successful as a recruiter. He's loyal to his guys, including the ones he inherited. To a fault? Too early to tell for me. Our tourney hopes will likely end for sure fairly soon. I think Groce will then continue to start the same 5 guys, but play the frosh significantly more minutes, giving them more opportunity to play through their mistakes. Next year, JB will be gone, but TA and NE will be back. TA will likely start all next year; NE definitely will, IMO. The latter makes many cringe, but as Buck said, there's no better option on the bench. That's my take; let 'er rip.

The above bleating aside, I agree with most of the criticism of Groce's strategy lately, especially allowing his main guys to be gassed at the end of games. I wish folks would stop ripping Egwu for taking wide-open shots at the arc. Most of them come off a well-executed pick and roll. He's being told to take them; Groce has said this. Your quibble is with Groce. He could try having Egwu roll to a spot closer in, but that shot is likely to be contested. I don't know why there seems to be a law that only the 5 can set picks, as if a good pick depends on height. I know the idea is to drag their slowest defender into it, but if your 5 isn't capable of making the available shot, it's time to go to Plan B. Use Ekey/Hill, maybe Joe/Nunn, there, and send NE weakside to spot up and crash. Won

Crk, IMO our lack of ballhandling is a bigger problem than lack of shooting (not that the latter isn't a problem). Taking the starters and ranking them on a 1 to 10 for ballhandling at the positions they play, I have NE at zero, Ekey and Joe each at no better than a 2, TA about a 5 and RR at about 7. That is pretty abysmal. Watch some of these teams handle the ball compared to us and you see how glaring the problem is. You watch 6'8: - 6'9" guys like Dekker, Aaron White, Uthoff, Q. Ross at osu, etc. and just have to admit: we've nobody who can do that. To me, it explains the disparity in fouls that folks complain about far more than some kind of ref conspiracy.

Finally, my pet peeve from the Weber years regrettably still persists. The ball is never passed inside, to anyone. Perimeter defenders don't ever have to turn their heads to look inside or cheat down; inside defenders can cheat up to help. All we do is dribble inside, into the masses. Space the floor and zip it in and out of there. Heresy, I know. But why?

Orlando Illini. Your answer is in your question. It's the 47 years. I can do the math; you became an Illini at 18, same as me (3 years later). It's who we are, 'til death do us part, but let's get a title first. To increase our odds, just do us both a favor an never use the word Cubs and the word Illini in the same context again. :)

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

T Tom brought up a point that I discussed at length yesterday with some friends. The point is that Groce is still trying to win games to get to the dance & he's doing it with the players that he thinks gives him the best chance to do it & I understand that. But, we were comparing the stats of Hill & Nunn per their PT Wed. to those of Ekey & Bertrand per their PT & it was a little frustrating because the comparison was way favorable towards the freshmen. I still love Groce & feel he's the guy to resurrect this program, but at some point, possibly after the next 5 games when our tourney hopes will be gone, some of these freshmen should get more PT. I'm not saying they should start, but definitely more PT for them seems justified. Also, I know we've lost only 5 games, but the last 2 really hurt because PU & NW are not very good teams.
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FYI - Leron Black, the future Illini from Memphis, is playing on TV tonight on CBSSD, which is channel 963 on Comcast.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

A lack of ballhandling and shooting ability pretty much equal a lack of athleticism.

I have confidence Gross can recruit players with athleticism.

Most of my complaining is just selfish. With Weber, in the last few years we watched pass around the perimeter and take a shot as the clock winds down, now we re watching drive and shoot, hope to get fouled and hope Rice scores 20. Be nice to have a Yogi Ferrel or two one the team every few years. crk

Evergreen
Evergreen

First, I have to tell you, I am totally surprised at how convincing a coach Groce is. He has convinced Egwu to come to practice, run sprints, work on shooting, free throw, work on rebounds, lift after practice and yet, when he plays him he has him do none of this . Instead he runs mindlessly 30 feet from the basket basket setting picks.
Once Abrams and Rice stop hogging the ball and passing it, we will win again. The teams have figured this all out if I have. Not hard to see why we have trouble scoring.
Finally until e the other players tell Abrams and Rice to stop hogging the ball we will struggle.

Basketball Jones
Basketball Jones

Tendonitus Tom, Your right none of are freshmen are Jabari Parker, But I will say, none of are starters are either.

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