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My Alarm Goes Off In 4 Hours November 20, 2012

…but I don’t care. No chance I could go to sleep right now. I feel like I just watched a rebirth.

OK, disclaimers. It was just USC. They’re supposed to be much improved this year, but they might be awful again. We might look back on this game in three months and see that we beat an awful team.

And yes, we’ll need more inside. Of our bigs, Myke Henry has an outside game, Tyler Griffey’s offense is that of a two guard, and Nnanna would rather take the 15 footer than post someone up. Only McLovin has a back-to-the-basket, get-the-tough-rebound game. So everything written about this team between now and March will have a “but when the shots aren’t falling…” disclaimer attached. We’ll have to shoot well to win.

But with that out of the way, FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN. Watching this game was so much fun. As I said on Twitter, the only time I can remember being dumbfounded by a first half of Illini basketball was the Gonzaga game in the Wooden Classic in late 2004. For me, that was my “wow, this team is pretty incredible” moment. We had a hint in the Cincy tournament game, and we saw it in action against the #1 team in the land against Wake Forest, but that Gonzaga first half was something else.

This USC first half was something else. No, we’re not going to make 11 shots in a row again this season. But it wasn’t just the shots. It was the defense. And the passing. And the hustle. And the determination. And the smiles on their faces. And the togetherness. And the relentlessness. (And the 57 points.)

I jumped up off my couch three times before deciding to stand. When I wanted to tweet something, I’d literally run over to the laptop (phone takes my eyes off the screen too long) and then run back to the TV screen eight feet away. When Brandon Paul dunked that reverse alley-oop, I did this fist punching modern dance thing that had the dog thinking it was the morning. They were having fun out there. I was having fun in here.

And I think that was the best part of tonight. As I’ve said many times here, I believe DJ was the one player most hurt by the “don’t shoot that” coaching style of Bruce Weber. With the helicopter parent hovering, he struggled to find a groove. To see him as smiling and high-fiving and fist bumping and clapping on defense as he got into his stance – man, that was so great to see.

Tyler Griffey, too. The freedom to shoot and to drive and to be aggressive – he has to be loving life. He’s now 7-14 from three on the season. Love the pick and pop.

And Tracy Abrams? Who expected this from Abrams? Who expected 15.3 points per game and 5 assists per game this early in his career? I’ve been worried about a first year surge and then, after these seniors graduate, a second year slump for John Groce. But if Abrams can keep playing like this, maybe next year he can combine with JoeBert, Rayvonte Rice, and the freshmen to compose a similar, aggressive backcourt.

Most of all, I’m just excited that we’re aggressive. I’m excited about the brand of basketball that we play. When a top-5 recruit like Cliff Alexander tweets “Illinois looking good tonight”, you can’t help but think that John Groce has this thing pointed in the right direction.

And now, a Division II opponent that just played out of their minds to beat Texas. After we take care of business there, a spot in the finals on ESPN Wednesday night, most likely against North Carolina. Remember when you’d come home from college for Thanksgiving, and that Wednesday night was the big night to see everyone you hadn’t seen all fall? And how it still happens today, with people back in their hometowns for Thanksgiving, meeting up with old friends at the local watering hole?

The game that’s always on in the background that night? The final of the Maui Invitational. I remember just such a scenario in late 2000 when we played Arizona and Sean Harrington nearly shot us back into the game. Wednesday night, “hey, I haven’t seen you in forever”, Maui final in the background.

Well, this Wednesday night, that game will likely be Illinois vs. North Carolina. As it should be.

ffmunce November 20th, 2012

Do you hear that? Ssshhhhh. It’s faint, so you have to listen closely. That low rustling sound in the distance. Hear it? If you’ve ever heard it before, the sound is unmistakeable. It’s the sound of a giant starting to wake from a 6-year slumber.

Lou-a-villini November 20th, 2012

Joe John: Counterpoint? :)

LongLiveTheChief98 November 20th, 2012

Hopefully this a true sign of good things to come for Illini Nation, and not just a function of a light schedule. After the gridiron, we NEED this to be legit. Do you hear this, sporting gods? We NEED this.

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 20th, 2012

What’s a “gridiron” – this is hoops season.
Opposing coaches tend to give the best perspective on games like this…”The way we played, I certainly hope that’s not indicative of our team. Tonight, we didn’t do anything we wanted to do offensively or defensively,” O’Neill said. “I’ve been at SC for four years now and we’ve never got beaten that bad, and we had a bad team last year and we didn’t get beat that bad.”

Steve November 20th, 2012

That really was a boatload of fun !
I’m actually nervous now. There is something here, something to care about. And we don’t have any recent history of defending anything we care about. Honestly, last year I had stopped caring. Well, somewhat. I watched every game, but it was tough to get emotionally exciting about it.
Now I’m excited. Trying hard not to be too excited. But I think I’m going to say “WTF” and just enjoy the ride for however long it lasts. Basketball is fun again !

jakey illini November 20th, 2012

I agree with Steve…the problem is that we have been trained to kinda wait for some type of blow up or let down and no one was really sure what the heck to expect with Groce and his first year. And while it’s early, holy cow it is soo much fun.

Griffey 50% from three point land
TA with nearly the same amount of 3′s all of last year in first 4 games
suffocating D last night in first half
take care of business tonight and wednesday will be a heat check

illiniranger November 20th, 2012

does this sound close enough?
joe john: “chaminade will beat us. and when they do it’ll be just another data point merely 5 games into the Groce era that he is absolutely the wrong guy. we should have hired Todd Monken and the Leonards from SHG and Rochester to be our basketball staff. Lunt would have made a great 2 guard.”

thegoah November 20th, 2012

I went to bed before the game but TiVo’d it. My daughter knocked something off of her bunk bed at 3 am and woke me up with a start and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I normally get up at 5 anyway, so I just put on the coffee and watched the game. What a great start to the day!
Still early, and maybe there will be a nut punch at some point–but I’m ok with that. The bigger picture is that we have a coach who can get his players to play like THAT. Even if its not always…or even often. What did Robert say? 2004? 8 years since we saw a half of basketball like that? We are back. Maybe we aren’t Indiana yet, or Ohio State. But I have a feeling we are about to become something we haven’t been in a long time–relevant.
As for Joe John, I continue to say what I’ve said for a long time–if Joe John didn’t exist, Robert should have created him for this blog. Nothing to stir us up and muster the troops like JJ. Robert is either incredibly lucky or a brilliant con to have him here.
3 cheers for Joe John!

Lou-a-villini November 21st, 2012

Ranger: Classic! :)

Illinigrad November 21st, 2012

Who said that Chaminade would beat us? Wow. How off could you be in a prediction.