It’s Never Easy. But It’s Fun. December 29, 2012
OK, fine, blame it on the honeymoon. Blame it on the the fact that Bruce Weber is wearing purple now. Blame it on the fact that I just sat through John Groce’s press conference and wanted to fist bump him as he walked past and scream something awkward like “let’s DO THIS”.
But this is fun.
Yes, today was a flashing warning light. If we rebound like that – if we play defense like we did in the first half – we’re in trouble in the Big Ten. A friend of mine sent me this text during the game:
The guys I’m with think Michigan State might get 75% of their misses back against us.
…and they’re right. If we don’t figure some things out rebounding-wise and defensive-rotation-wise, we’re in trouble in the deepest Big Ten in 20 years.
But I’m kind of not even close to worried about it. Yes, we might go 9-9 or so in the Big Ten. But that doesn’t bother me this afternoon. I wanted 10-4 in the non-conference, and I got 13-1. We’re playing with house money at this point and the pit boss might comp us a room.
I know it’s weird to say all of this after we only beat Auburn – lost at home to Winthrop and also lost to DEPAUL Auburn – by two. But I have complete and total confidence in John Groce to figure something out.
Remember the “ridiculously impressive” post I put together back in June after I interviewed him? That hasn’t changed. In fact, he’s exceeded those expectations. He took a team that lost 12 of 15 to end last season (and lost a lottery pick) and went 13-1 in the non conference. The media picked us to finish ninth in the Big Ten before the season, and now we’re ranked #12/#15 in the polls.
But it’s more than that. He commanded this press conference. No excuses. No players under the bus. He simply stated how we didn’t play defense in the first half which didn’t give any cushion after a fantastic offensive first half. And how there’s tons of work to be done on rebounding and defensive rotations.
But he also complimented the team on the focus they’ve had since the Missouri game. And he beamed when talking about how they wanted Tracy to push the ball and how he pushed the ball. And when asked about Tracy’s 27 points, he pointed to the 5 assists, 4 steals, and only one turnover “against a team that is top-50 in forcing turnovers”.
When he said that, I sat back and smiled. I’m completely confident in my fully-prepared coach. I haven’t said that in football since (don’t make me answer that) and I haven’t said that in basketball since 2005 (or maybe 2006). Rebounding problems? Defensive issues? Mental lapses? Egwu struggling to catch the ball? We’ve cooled off from three? Yeah, I kind of don’t care right now. I’m confident that this coach will push this team with flaws to their maximum amount of wins.
That’s it. The end. That’s where I’m at. This team that was picked to finish 9th in the B1G is now 12th/15th in the polls. There are obvious flaws – we’ve talked about them since before the season – but this coaching staff is maxing out their talent. And when John Groce opens his mouth, I have complete confidence in everything he says. He’s put hours and hours of thought behind his opinions. So in 4 years, when he has a team he fully recruited and developed, I have complete confidence that we’ll find ourselves in the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
Will we struggle in the Big Ten, maybe as soon as the game at Purdue? Yes. Play like we played today, and we’re starting 0-4 in conference play. It might be a struggle to get to 9-9. And right now, I’m… OK with that. This program is pointed in the right direction right now. This coaching staff is fully aware of the flaws and is putting in overtime to correct them.
Max out the talent on each team. Be playing your best basketball at the end of the season. Get in the tournament (every year) and then see what happens. That’s what I want from Illini Basketball. And under John Groce, I’m confident that that’s what we’ll get.
Yes, after a 2 point win over Auburn.