Tupper: Surviving the coming schedule

2013-01-24T01:00:00Z 2013-01-27T00:29:50Z Tupper: Surviving the coming scheduleBy Mark Tupper H&R Executive Sports Editor Herald-Review.com

CHAMPAIGN — If Tuesday’s 20-point victory at Nebraska is an indication, a players-only meeting last week seems to have inspired attention to detail that had been missing in three previous University of Illinois basketball games.

After captains D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin and Tracy Abrams dragged the team behind closed doors and pledged to do a better job, Illinois responded in a positive way.

Rebounding was ferocious. Coach John Groce praised the effort on the defensive end. Every time Nebraska made a push, Illinois pushed back harder. And because Richardson scored a career-high 30 points in what Groce called the best overall game of his career, Illinois was able to absorb another night of poor shooting by Brandon Paul (4-of-13 overall, 0-of-6 from 3) and Tyler Griffey (1-of-6).

But with a daunting five-game stretch against some of the Big Ten’s top teams beginning on Sunday, it raises questions:

Should there be a players-only meeting every week?

Coaches and players are superstitious and if it worked going into the Nebraska, why fool with fate? Huddle up prior to Sunday’s showdown with the Wolverines.

Should Groce stick with his starting lineup change for the third straight game, keeping Sam McLaurin on the front line with Nnanna Egwu and bringing Tyler Griffey off the bench?

Yes, for two reasons: McLaurin has played better as a starter and Griffey has played better as a backup.

You’ll notice I did not say that Griffey has shot the ball better, because he hasn’t. But he’s been more active on the glass and it seems like he’s injecting 

himself into the thick of the action more regularly.

As for his shooting, well, it has reached almost comical proportions. Griffey has now missed all of his 17 3-pointers over the past five games and maybe he should think about taking a bounce or two and driving into the lane where that 21-foot shot becomes a 14-footer. Just a thought.

The upcoming string of five games over 19 days will test Illinois in every way imaginable. Consider:

l Michigan, 5 p.m., Sunday, Assembly Hall. Ranked No. 2 in the country, the Wolverines (17-1) are headed to Purdue tonight. This is a gifted lineup led by guards Trey Burke (18.0 ppg, 7.2 assists) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (16.4 ppg) and forward Glen Robinson (leads in rebounding).

l At Michigan State, Jan. 31. The Spartans are 17-3 and 6-1 in the league and the victory at Wisconsin on Tuesday was their sixth in a row. With a core that includes Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and big men Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, coach Tom Izzo seems to have figured some things out after a few early bumps.

l Wisconsin, Feb. 3 in a Super Bowl Sunday Special at Assembly Hall. As Illinois already knows, this is a good team capable of being a very good team. The Badgers (13-6) beat Illinois soundly in Madison, then pulled a national shocker by winning at Indiana. But since then, Wisconsin has lost at Iowa and lost at home to the Spartans. Wisconsin can be beaten, but never without a fight.

l Indiana, Feb. 7, Assembly Hall. At 17-2, some believe this is the best team in the country. Ranked No. 7 for now, the Hoosiers are the second highest scoring team in America, averaging 84.4 points. They can go inside to Cody Zeller and outside to a ton of options. It’s possible Indiana may struggle at times because it has too many parts.

l At Minnesota, Feb. 10. Since beating Illinois 84-67 at Assembly Hall on Jan. 9, Minnesota has lost at Indiana and lost at home to Michigan. The Gophers lost at Northwestern on Wednesday night and Illinois has already seen Minnesota at its best — when it rebounds, shoots and creates turnovers.

A 3-2 record would be a spectacular achievement during those five games but even 2-3 would keep Illinois in the hunt thanks to a more forgiving finishing stretch.

At the least, the victory over Nebraska keeps some of Illinois’ dreams alive.

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(22) Comments

  1. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - January 27, 2013 12:39 pm
    I doubt DJ gets very many good looks at the basket from the 3 line today. Griffey has to make some 3's early to open somethings up. Would it be to much to ask for Henry or Lankford to step up and get aggressive? I can't wait for these new recruits. Watching Nunn last night, and hill highlites on the news, while listening to people talk about the big kid out east, and Morgan really get's me interested in the future. Tate even showed signs of being a pretty nice point guard. The future looks bright. Haven't been able to say that about an Illinois team in awhile. I sure hope I get the same feeling about the football program before long,
  2. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - January 27, 2013 10:48 am
    A friend has said a couple of times this week that we could play one of our best games against Mich. & still lose & I agree with him. I'll still hope for the best today & beyond, but my expectations are much lower now. We may not win any of the next 5 games & how many we win the rest of the season is a bunch of ??????, but I have all the confidence in the world in Groce to rebuild this program after this year. I saw a clip of a JC PG from N Mex. named Desmond Lee that Groce is pursuing, so he's not just standing pat, he's going after guys for immediate help. Something has to give, so we'll surely be losing more players than just those who graduate.
    Once the "3" came into being, most players quit working very much on mid-range J's & FT's. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I'd guess that FT %'s across the board have gone down for college bball since the advent of the "3". Most highlights on ESPN show players either going all the way to the hole or shooting the "3".
    T T - Thanks for the condolences IRT Stan the Man. As a lifelong Cards fan, Musial has always been a role model for how to live one's life. He was respected as much for the life he lead off the field & after retiring from baseball as his talents on the field were lauded.
    So, who guards Burke most of the time today? TA seems likely, but he has those foul problems. Will Griffey finally make a few 3's today? Will DJ make 6 3's again? Will Egwu get more than a couple of feeds in the post? Will BP ........oh, that's enough ????? for now.
  3. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - January 26, 2013 9:53 pm
    Who scores just 45 points in a game and wins??Talk about milking a shot clock,refund half the ticket money.The win for Bo and Badger land enjoyed it,me not so much.
  4. Tendonitis Tom
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    Tendonitis Tom - January 26, 2013 7:55 pm
    Evergreen -- I'm with ya on everything you said.

    I grew up in a bi-baseball house; Mom a Cubs fan and Dad a Sox fan. As a kid I went to Sox games (had to listen to the '59 series on the radio though). But I mainly watched the Cubs cuz they were always on after school. I can recall seeing so many of the NL greats of the 60s on WGN. Aaron, Mays, Gibson, Koufax, Clemente, McCovey, FRobby before he went to the O's. Eventually I got to see some of them in person at Wrigley before they were done, but regrettably not Stan the Man. For him, my memory this many years later is just double after double after double, banging off the Wrigley wall, and Brickhouse moaning. And of course that corkscrew stance. I just watched Bob Costas' eulogy at Musial's service, which was excellent. A prince of a guy indeed. For Cards' fans here of that vintage, who remember baseball before agents, gazillion dollar contracts, steroids, and showboating egomaniacs, condolences.

    I think we have a shot at beating MI, but Va Jack's probably right that we need to make half our threes to do it.
  5. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - January 26, 2013 3:15 pm
    I agree VAJack. JG, has a rebuilding task in front of him. Freshmen are freshmen, and the Big 10 is the Big 10. I think Groce is up to the task. However, give me 5 Kendrick Nunn's and I will play "small ball." :) crk
  6. Evergreen
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    Evergreen - January 26, 2013 3:08 pm
    Tell me, what part of the 3 ball shot am I supposed to be excited about. Really, most do not go in. Most 3's are bad shots. Most reward you to stand back from action, from making a play, a move. Most make other teammates freeze on the line instead of crashing the board. The three has turned many big men into non offensive players.
    Are setting picks by the big men the reason mom and dad sent them to camp, the reason they worked at getting a scholarship, to watch their kid just set useless picks and forget about going inside to score? You no longer see a kid, open at the 3 try to take a better shot, closer or drive, never when wide open. Is this what you all come to see, justa shooting contest.
  7. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - January 26, 2013 2:43 pm
    Riddle me this Batman

    You flip on the TV

    The score is 41 to 39 with 3 minutes left

    What conference are you watching?

    What team is playing?
    :) crk
  8. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - January 26, 2013 2:36 pm
    Come on now,it was Nebraska,Huskers,Corn People,you can not draw anything from that win.===Truth is UM is a loss,unless its rainnng 3s at 55%.===Stop all koolade now before its to late.===3 or 4 more wins do not make any seeds in my dance forcast.I just hope that OSU beat down at seasons end does not keep us out the NIT.===Hope the schedule is laughable for next year too.With DJ and BP gone Illini will only have Bertrand for "O".None of the recruits are one and done players,that makes it hard to reach 15 wins and stay off the bottom of the Conference.===Its hard to form any solid info from watching HS games on ESPN.It does not look great for anyincoming BEEF for the Illini.Once more they look like skinny 6' to 6' 7" kids that are joining the little people roster at Illinois already.With all the "BIGS" the Illni will face in the Conference.why is it we have no "BEEF"???Guards,small fowards,Illinois always finds them,they seemed stay far far away.===Keep UM close and we might get 2 wins out of the 5.What I really think,its 0 and 5.Purdue, Nebraska and Penn St are winnable,does that get enough wins for NIT???
  9. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - January 26, 2013 1:17 pm
    Mikey, Not sure if it's a winnable game or not. To win were gonna have to shoot the 3 like we did early in the season, when Griffey and Henry were both hitting open shots, and Paul was playing like a first team all-american. I just have a hard time figuring out how a whole team can go from playing like a top 10 team, to playing like thw worst team in div 1 basketball.
  10. Evergreen
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    Evergreen - January 26, 2013 10:14 am
    Sure, they won, but do not get your hopes up. The game at Nebraska was filled with unforced bad shots and bad passes that had very little to do with any revamped Illini. As for their rebounding, most of them were because the ball went to the floor first. This team is not controlled by either coach or players. They run one on one plays, they take bad shots, and they never post up or pass enough. They could be better, but until someone hammers them with dicipline do not look for any more wins. They will go 0 and 5 and then maybe win one or 2 more along the way. This is what you get when you let Abrams go wild, Paul play any guard position, Griffey gets any playing time, Langford and Henry get very little playing time, and Egwu is not given 10 post feeds for turnaround fades. The mistkes have not been handled by Groce correctly, but I do like the kids he has coming.
  11. Rosco
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    Rosco - January 25, 2013 4:30 pm
    Hey Mikey. Good analysis. Burke is the head of the monster and agree controlling him is a major key to victory. We were mostly successful with Craft which helped slow them down and give us a better chance to win. A victory must start on the defensive end. Got to have effort and energy to get stops or make them work extremly hard for baskets, then take care of our possessions and attack when appropriate. Unfortunately, when to attack has not been mastered by this group. The three amigos (BP, TA and PB) that try and create don't have plan B or C ready, just plan A however it pans out. This is the game for TG to make 4-5 3s. Would love to have a W, but need to see some carry over in intensity from the Neb game. Absolutely can't afford a slow start.

    peace brothers
  12. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - January 25, 2013 4:14 pm
    The subject line here of this article is the next 5 games and that is all well and good. But you know the players have to look at one game at a time and that next game is a huge one, one I believe the Illini can win. What will it take to win this game? I look at Michigans' stats and its pretty impressive from a individual player. I think the Illini need to stop, harass, get in his head, foul, maim, whatever it takes to stop Burke. I really believe he is the guy you have to disrupt and stop to win this game. He is averaging in double figures in points......so are 3 or 4 other guys like Hardaway and Robinson. The Illini have to play flawless offense......But the main thing that stands out stats wise is his assists per game which is a little over 7 per game. I think this is the key to the game. Stop Burke. It's a slim chance we win, but I really believe it's winnable. What do you guys think? Am I off in my assumptions?
  13. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - January 25, 2013 3:52 pm
    agree with ronh.... still more fun than watching the paint dry the last 4-5 yrs. don't miss that at all.

    thought the last game they were looking to get out and run more too... even on in-bounds passes. seemed like the first 10-12 games of the yr the guys acted like they were working against a 15 second shot clock and things were much smoother (if thats even possible). granted the style of the Big 10 is different than preseason but WE look different now than back then for the most part. I don't like watching paint dry.

    thanks for the heads up Pistol.... my plans for Sat fell thru and watching Simeon vs WY looks like it might be my best option.
  14. ronh
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    ronh - January 25, 2013 2:37 pm
    I agree that TA and Paul both predetermine what they are going to do before they drive. It takes a point guard skill to know what to do with it and when to do it. You have to see the whole court and none of these guys seem to have the skill or ability to do that. It really makes their drives pretty useless. Still more fun to watch than the last few years though.
  15. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - January 25, 2013 8:37 am
    Yes, Abrams does it quite a bit and he is still trying to learn how to be not out of control going inside. I don't think he has that vision to dish off when needed. But lets face it, due to Weber's inability to recruit a true point guard isn't helping matters. Abrams has done very well for not being that true point guard but it would be so much better if we had a guy like.....Jalen Tate, and we will next year. You can never have enough point guards now can we?
  16. namber
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    namber - January 25, 2013 8:14 am
    Does anyone else get the impression that Tracy decides what he is going to do long before he even dribbles past mid-court and then forces that tact even when nothing is there? It sure looks like that to me.
  17. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - January 24, 2013 3:25 pm
    one would thing after playing together for 2 and 3 years, there would be a little more coordination and execution between the players. e.g. brown, williams and head. I expected a much stronger passing game, although in hindsight i suppose there was not much precedent for that last year. crk
  18. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - January 24, 2013 1:36 pm
    agree pistol - the officiating is pretty bad seems like on a nightly basis. only positive is that it was bad both ways Tues night.

    TA has not been very good at all since the Auburn game that I can recall.

    I just have to wonder if these guys can ever be consistent. but I still keep hoping that Groce can get through to them in a way that he-who-shall-not-be-named never could.

    isn't jaquan lyle visiting saturday for the michigan game? hope we impress him and he keeps us in his sights.
  19. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - January 24, 2013 1:33 pm
    couldn't post at all yesterday until I cleared my cookies and cache. glad to see the team bounce back on the road even though Nebraska is not very good.

    I really like coach groce but I tend to disagree with him when he stated that it hasn't been an effort problem; it has been an execution problem. we haven't executed well either but to me it really has been about a lack of effort on several guys parts. I think he is covering for them. a coach can say we didn't execute well and get by with that because everybody can see its true. but if a coach says we're just not trying and not putting out the effort, that is construed as throwing them under the bus.

    if we had put out the effort Tues like we did vs NW and WI we wouldn't have even gotten to half the loose balls we did nor would we have gotten a lot of those 50/50 rebounds. and a lot of good defense is all about effort as well.

    gosh I hate to see TG struggle like this. I watched a show late last night on Fox Sports Midwest called Fighting Illini Insider. had some nice clips of the team in the locker room after the Auburn game and the OSU game. good insights there. I will be looking for that show again in the future.
  20. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - January 24, 2013 9:47 am
    Pistol Pete, Thanks for the heads up. I don't have alot of confidence in getting wins in the next couple weeks. Maybe Wisconsin at home? Be nice to see are guys come out of the locker room with a biig chip on there shoulder for that game after all the celebrating there players were doing during the play up there. Are team was embarresed up there. I know us fans will be pumped and ready for the rematch, I wonder if the players will be?
  21. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - January 24, 2013 9:04 am
    I know how I'm gonna survive the coming murderers row schedual, go to a much warmer climate for two weeks with no access to Illini basketball news. We will either be on the bubble when I get back or contemplating whether we'll even get an NIT invite if we can win every game remaining.
  22. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - January 24, 2013 8:00 am
    The players may as well have another meeting.....couldn't hurt. I would be ecstatic if we would go 2-3 for the next 5 games. With the B1G being so strong this year, we have a shot at beating a top ranked team many times during the conf. schedule. If we can get to 20-21 wins & beat 1 or 2 of the top 5 B1G teams during the next 5 game stretch, we have a good shot at the dance, even if we finish below .500 in the B1G. The selection committee supposedly doesn't count the conf. record, but the overall body of work.
    Great game for DJ.
    Griff had some good looks at the basket, but they rattled out yet again. The law of averages should be turning in his favor soon. He has too good of a stroke for them to keep rattling out.
    Abrams HAS to get better at setting up his teammates. If not, I think J. Tate could step right in & do it next year, because he's very good at it right now on a much improved & very good, highly ranked Simeon team. Parker & Nunn get a lot of their points off of feeds from Tate. BTW, Simeon is playing Whitney Young on Sat. night at 8:00 CT on ESPNU.
    Both Groce & the Neb. coach had legitimate complaints before getting their T's Wed. night. DJ's defender started falling before DJ ever made contact on his drive & besides that, it looked like DJ got the shot off before contact anyway. (If there was contact.) Also, it looked like the big guy from Neb. cleanly stripped BP as he was driving the lane.
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