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No Passing Zone January 17, 2013

I’m hung up on the passing.

It’s all I can think about. I’m obsessed with it. The last two games, without question, were the worst passing-the-basketball games in the last 25 years of Illini basketball. I’ve watched 95% of the televised games in those 25 years (and attended every home game while I was in school) and I can tell you that I’ve never watched back-to-back games where we looked so lost distributing the ball.

In the last two games, we have eight assists. Eight. Total. 80 minutes of basketball, eight assists. Which means that once every ten minutes – twice per half – an Illini player found an open teammate and he knocked down the shot and/or layup. Wait, what am I and/or-ing for? We don’t find open teammates for layups. Once every ten minutes in the last two games an Illini player found an open teammate who then knocked down a shot. That’s pretty unbelievable.

Granted, this team didn’t make their 12-0 run to the top ten with 2005-like assists. If I recall correctly we were only averaging something like 13 assists per game then. But eight in two games? You have really try for that one-assist-every-ten-minutes pace.

But it’s not just assists. Quick, name one solid Illini pass you can remember from tonight. Name something you remember besides dribble-drives into double teams hoping for foul calls. You can’t, can you? The only pass I remember was on Paul’s three that cut the lead to ten – I think it was Abrams. That led to a fist pump. Yes, I fist-pumped a second half three that cut the lead to ten in the second half at home against Northwestern who just lost by 20 to Iowa in Evanston on Sunday. Recalculating!

But now we’re beyond recalculation, aren’t we? Now we’re at a full-scale readjustment.

I was hopeful that this Illini basketball team would be the feel-good story that would bring us all back. Seniors who were lost under their old coach and then found under their new one. From 9th in the Big Ten preseason poll to 10th in the AP poll. From missing the NIT to a protected seed. All hail the new era of Illini basketball.

But now that’s not happening. With another bad loss – this one at home, no less – we probably have to get to nine Big Ten wins to make the tournament. And with another sure W gone, now we have to beat a Michigan or an Indiana to get there (combined with beating Wisconsin at home and Iowa on the road). At this point, all of that is highly unlikely.

Which pushes this readjustment past just this season. This season will now likely be our fourth missed NCAA Tournament in six years. And with four seniors graduating, next year looks like a step back as well. So that will make five missed tournaments in seven years. It’s likely spring of 2015 before we can count on a full bounce-back.

And football? Football is probably 2015 before there’s a chance at a winning season. Too many holes on both lines this year to see a winning season (plus a Guenther’d non-conference schedule including Cincinnati and Washington), and then probably too many offensive losses to do anything of substance in 2014.

So… yeah. It might be 2015 before we see a bowl game or an NCAA Tournament again. Holy crap I just typed that. I need to recap just for myself. Can’t find eight more Big Ten wins this year, so probably no tourney. No real chance at a bowl this fall. Too young to make the Tournament next spring. And I can’t see six football wins in 2014 either. So the next chance at postseason play might be 760-some days from now in March of 2015.

Oh hey look Joshua Jones (football recruit) decommitted and in-state stud defensive lineman Josh Augusta cancelled his weekend visit (which means he’ll pick Mizzou on Sunday). Gee-Oh A-Lion-Eye GO.

Fine, I’ll finish us off. Illini Football in-conference in 2011 and 2012? 2-14. Illini Basketball in-conference in 2011/12 and 2012/13? 7-16. Combined? The last 39 times we’ve all sat down to watch an Illini Big Ten matchup? 9-30. Nine. And. Thirty. NINEANDTHIRTY. #nineandthirty

(nine and thirty)

Illinigrad January 17th, 2013


Robert, I hope I live a long time. However, for the die hard Illinois fans over 60, of which there should still be thousands, it is quite possible that some in this group will not see another bowl game participation or NCAA tournament participate IF we are looking at a down period of three years in each varsity sport — which seems reasonable to project. It is sad when both sports are in the tank. Maybe the BB team will find enough within its collective self to resurrect the season and make the NCAA as there is still a lot of BB to play. But, play MUST improve.

Joe John January 18th, 2013

Would you still take the 2004-2005 Final Four, if it meant 10 years of futility afterwards?

10 years! A decade…wow.
Illinois is in a Michigan-type descent with their basketball program.
Groce and Tommy Amaker? Whats the difference?
How about Groce and Quin Snyder? Missouri was irrelevant for a long time.

Unless you get a superstar coach, these basketball cycles are long.
Iowa’s still trying to recover from dumping Tom Davis.

mattcoldagelli January 18th, 2013

Dear God.

bkenny January 18th, 2013

2017 Final Four or bust. Wake me up in 4 years.

Illinigrad January 18th, 2013

If the BB team tanks and ends up at or near the bottom on the conference, how often does a BIG school have BOTH the FB and BB programs in a condition of total misery? The non-bowl guys in FB were: IL, IN, PSU (does not count because they had a winning season), OSU (undefeated in FB, ditto bowl situation), IA. Unless I missed someone, only IL and IA stand out as weak in the two sports. IL stands out because we really do “stink” in both sports this season, unless the BB team does a turn around. This is not fun.

Illinifan4eva January 18th, 2013

How do you know if Groce is a superstar coach or not Joe John? You have no clue you fricken idiot. It is fans like you that give the program a bad vibe in these situations. Yes it sucks but there is promise. If you at least don’t hope for good things don’t bother posting crap on here. Robert is 100 times the fan you ever will be. Your the fraud in this whole situation.

Joe John January 18th, 2013

Illinifan4eva – I’m certain that a superstar coach does not have the capacity to lose 3 straight games in the fashion that John Groce has. I’m certain a superstar coach could put up a better record than 34-30 in the MAC. I’m certain a superstar coach could recruit a better class than what Groce has put together with the first 7 or 8 kids he’s signed or had transfer in.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

And how do we secure this superstar coach, jj? Put a gun to his head? Cuz, recall that we went after two “flavors of the month” and we’re rejected. Publicly. We don’t have the style points to get superstar coaches right now – in hoops or football. We’re not a school who can command that. Maybe we used to be, in hoops anyway. Seems your goal is to grouse about our coaches (and AD) until they’re all fired. Great plan. And your “I hope they die” attitude is so pleasant for the rest of us.
Either you’re an Illini fan or you’re not. No matter whether we got the guy you would have hired ot not. And u doubt it’s as easy to get those guys as you make it seen.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

“And I doubt it’s as easy…” (stupid smartphone keyboards)

illiniranger January 18th, 2013

probably the biggest thing you look for in a sports program is that the team improves as the season goes on. as long as you are generally speaking better at the end than when you started it’s hard to be unhappy. a sports season is like the stock market – it goes up, it goes down, but generally you want to see that upward trend.
what bothers me a lot is when you see major regression. not just a bad game, but major, significant, systemic regression. our FB team played its best football game of the season on September 1 – everything after that was downhill. Our bball team played its best stretch of bball to open the season in Maui. With a couple exceptions we regressed significantly and had to shake off Gardner-Webb, Norfolk State, and WCU at home.
personally, i think there is something wrong with the culture of both programs. our players don’t seem to believe in themselves and they don’t seem to buy in to playing hard on every play/possession. in football i don’t think our players really believe in the coaches either. We’ve really fallen on our face here in bball. it’s time for Groce to get this team playing better, harder basketball. at this point the record is irrelevant and going to the tourney is irrelevant. its about getting better every game and playing them tight and close. it’s about, pardon the cliche, having something to build on. and if this season goes down in flames the only thing to build on is hoping for addition by subtraction as our SRs graduate. That’s where the Fball team is now.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

I agree ranger. It’s like they have a loser mentality. We have what are really unwatchable losses – in both sports. I don’t ever remember that at Illinois (save for one recent year in football). I feel like we’re becoming Wisconsin of the 80s. A total afterthought in sports. That blows.

Lou-a-villini January 18th, 2013

The Illini can’t seem to handle success. It seems that once players start hearing how good they are in terms of the next level (McCamey, Paul, Benn, Juice), they shut it down and the productivity evaporates.

I think the only chance right now in hoops is to do what got us to #10…..jack up as many 3s as we can and hope that they start falling. There are no other options.

gusher January 18th, 2013

I have to admit, I’m really concerned that we hired Basketball Tim Beckman.
And if we did, then it’s not really the coaches that are the problem, is it?

ATOillini January 18th, 2013

Fantastic comments. I have a great friend who is a Badger grad (long time ago like me @ Illinois). Twice this year I’ve called him up and said “Wow, you guys really stink”. The first was watching them in football vs. Oregon State. Yes, they ended up losing 6 games, but look at the scores and realize the last loss was a close one to an excellent Stanford team in the Rose Bowl. Same thing has already happened in basketball. They lost their best player (an excuse we’d use all year) and have somehow just improved as the year has progressed. And in both sports they do it without headline recruits.
Meanwhile, we have DJ who was freshman of the year in the entire conference and now just looks helpless. Robert highlighted passing, but if you really think about it….passing, dribbling, shooting, rebounding, defense……ALL were just horrible last few games.
I honestly never felt we were a top 15 team, but looking at the guys NW had on the floor was almost comical. A couple appeared as if they don’t shave yet, and here they are draining 3′s and shooting uncontested back door layups on our home court. It just hurts to watch.
I know this is counter to everything Groce preached early on while we were winning regarding encouraging guys to shoot, but I think I might ban the 3 point attempts for at least a half next game. It’s become a total mental block at this point. The shots aren’t even close.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

gusher, in my opinion, we still don’t have great talent on the floor/field. In hoops we’re decent (but really small) and in football, our personnel is just bad. Those are both really a reflection on Weber and Zook, respectively. And those hires are really on Guenther’s shoulders. I think RG really drove us downward a lot. I’m not saying Mike Thomas is Mr. Awesome, and I think Beckman may not be very good. But the people they’re coaching are really not their guys.
Just appears that recruiting really fell off for both Web and Zook (other than Leonard who, well, you know, isn’t here) and now we’re paying the price. Abrams is way too inconsistent. As is Griffey. Robert mentioned it yesterday – we need to hope for diamonds in the rough – 3 star and 2 star guys who later overachieve. Ugh, not a great situation. We are a sorry state right now.

IlliNYC January 18th, 2013

I honestly have no idea what happened to this team, but it looks like they stopped trusting each other. The similarities to last year are scary. Gonzaga win where the team looks great, big win against OSU and disaster.

agiganti January 18th, 2013

Robert, is there room for 2 on that ledge?
I remember a buddy of mine (IU grad) telling me after the 2005 final four he’d bet me Illinois won’t see another final four over the next 10 years. i laughed. We were back and not going away…
I remember when we were searching for our new coach and big names were being thrown about and I beleive there were several heads saying the same thing but i remember Gotlieb saying Illini fans our delusional if they think they’re going to get a big name, they’re not Kansas, IU, NC, Duke, etc….
Seems those outside the program see our program much clearer than most of us.

Kokomo Illini January 18th, 2013

Somehow I now keep hearing Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” song as I reflect on the last few games for our Illini Basketball team.

Robert and IlliNYC are correct, no trust, and therefore no assists. It seems to me that after the Mizzou & Purdue games we were all griping about rebounding, and then the Illini our rebounded OSU, but it was not sustainable. Rebounding takes toughness, and our guys only have that when we are hitting our 3 pointers and all is well.

I agree with ATOillini, put a ban on the 3 point shots (especially for Griffey). We should have more dribble drives and back door cuts to the basket than 3 point attempts.

I sure hope we can toughen up and win some more games……

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

We outrebounded Northwestern 29-21 last night. And we had 13 offensive rebounds to their 3. Clearly last night was about defense. NU didn’t need to rebound as their uncontested shots were going in. We should have been able to out-athlete NU last night with sheer hustle and fight and driving to the hoop. But, alas, they has 31 foul shots to our 20. In our house.
In the Auburn game, we weren’t doing great from 3, and so Abrams stepped up with timely drives – some turned into shots, some into nice dishes. He’s just so inconsistent. On some of our offensive trips lately, the shot selection is abysmal. While I don’t agree with the Weber mentality of benching a guy for that, something has to be done.

illiniranger January 18th, 2013

Let’s discuss the theory of benching a guy.
When Weber was the coach if you took what he considered a bad shot you were coming out of the game, especially if you were a big hoisting up a three. With Groce there is no such thing as a bad shot.
the reality is somewhere in the middle. i absolutely don’t mind a coach yanking a player out for taking a bad shot. some of the shots we have taken recently are fricking horrendous. at the same time, you can’t take a kid out of the game because he misses an open look. weber confused missing an open shot with taking a bad shot.
Weber was overwhelmingly negative in his coaching style and Groce is overwhelmingly positive. The best style is somewhere in the middle. Your players should love and respect you, but they should also have a little bit of fear in the back of their minds. i see a team of kids that seem to be locked into their roles. terribly careless pass? don’t worry about it TA, you’ll get ‘em next time. what’s that Mike Shaw? no, you won’t play regardless of how often McLaurin turns it over. Oh excuse me Joseph Bertrand? No, you can’t star over DJ because he’s got a lot of heart. Everyone is far too comfortable and ensconced in their role.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 18th, 2013

Well said, ranger.
But maybe we should not even talk about shots right now. Maybe we should look at every guy on the opposing team and find his average points per game. Groce should challenge every guy on our team to “beat the spread” by say 3 or 4 points. That is, hold your man to 3 or 4 points below his average. Be 80% focused on defense right now, because it is non-existent sometimes. If we could have held NU better on defense, we wouldn’t have to chuck so many 3s. These devastating holes that are being dug early in games are due to defense (and subsequent crappy shots since we’re trailing).
Not to be gross, but tell the guys, “hey, whoever needs a new jersey at halftime because they’ve sweated through their first one harrassing and covering their man, they’re starting the second half. Same deal at the end of the game for starting next game.” Our guys just look so uninterested sometimes.

TC80 January 18th, 2013

In my opinion, mental toughness is the biggest issue with this team. They can’t seem to handle adversity. Once the slightest thing goes wrong, they just go into a funk and forget how to play basketball. They clearly have talent to hang with about anyone, we saw that the way they played in Maui and against Gonzaga (and even Mizzou – who we stayed with even though we shot about 30%). I never thought they were a Top 10 team, but I legitimately think this team has the talent to be somewhere in the 15-25 range if they could get their heads right.

Something happened early in the 2nd half of the Minnesota game when they went on a run, and the Illini haven’t been right since. There is no reason our guards shouldn’t have been able to drive to the hole all night against NW last night. But like someone pointed out above, they were the aggressive ones and shot way more free throws than we did. Compare how earlier in the season, we used to drive aggressively at the basket off the ball screens – now we just go off a ball screen and fade back towards the 3 pt line instead of making a hard cut to the basket, making the screen completely useless. No aggression, and no confidence. Groce has to figure out a way to get them out of their rut, whether it’s focusing more on D or what.

Also, Robert – not sure I’d give up on next year just yet. We will literally have a whole new team, with 5 new freshmen (one at each position) and Rice. Plus Abrams, Bertrand, and Egwu returning. Even the attitude of the team should be different than with Paul and DJ leading the way. Who knows, we might be a pleasant surprise.

All I know is that it needs to improve, and soon. Someone on this team needs to step up and play with some pride. I don’t know if I’ve ever sat through a more utterly disappointing game at the Assembly Hall. Getting manhandled by Northwestern AT HOME, where the game was never really in doubt, is about as bad as it gets.

mlp94595 January 18th, 2013

After the Purdue loss, there was some discussion about this team looking like the 78-79 team who completely lost confidence and went from 15-0 to 19-11. These seniors have been so used to losing in the B1G that they just seem to expect to lose if they can’t get a 15 point lead. Shooting is a lot about confidence, and these guys have lost theirs, especially when bad 3 point shooting teams like Minny, Wisky and NU start draining them early.

One other thought is that Groce would be better served to lay off the refs. He seems to have it in for Scirotto. Burr T’d him up, but it was for ranting on Scirotto. As a result we don’t get the calls. Groce is the new kid on the block, not to mention the youngest coach in the conference, and he can’t expect the refs to bow down to him like they do to Ryan. When the coach gets too focused on the refs, the team feels it and suffers for it. He needs to spend a couple games biting his lip and just focusing on getting the players to play well even when they don’t get the calls. Eventually, the calls even out.

BexleyIllini January 18th, 2013

According to the ESPN box score, we had 12 assists in the OSU game. What in the world could’ve happened in the last 2 weeks? I just can’t figure out this team.

Lou-a-villini January 18th, 2013

Have they had the obligatory “Players-Only Meeting” yet?

rml January 18th, 2013

I got the same impression that you did, Robert: I think the problem is with passing. I missed the beginning of the game, but of the last thirty minutes or so I recall only two instances where it was clear that they were even trying to get an assist (if I remember right, both were right after timeouts, suggesting that it was a point of emphasis from Groce).
Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t like last year’s offense (pass the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock’s done, then take the best shot you can) to the current offense (hand the ball off around the perimeter until Paul or Abrams can start a drive, then have them throw the ball in the air and hope for a foul call). I would love to know our average points-per-possession on those kinds of possessions.

IlliniJeffrey January 19th, 2013

SHOOTING. In this 3 game slide, we are 7-60, opponents are 27-53 from 3. Period.

In order to record an assist, someone has to make a shot. How many assists went by the boards becuase we haven’t made anything the past 3 games?

In this 3 game slide, what did all 3 of the opposing coaches talk about first in their postgame pressers? They were glad that they made shots. Carmody last night said “Well, coaching is a lot easier when you make shots….” Exactly. In order to record an assist, the guy has to make the shot.

I understand the cliches constantly shoved down our throats with this know “you live by the three you die by the three.” That’s pretty much true of every team. You absolutely have to be able to make threes to win significant college games in today’s game, and this team has forgotten how to make that shot. We are 7-60 in our lat 3 games. Let me repeat that….7-60. It’s almost unfathomable that any team, let alone a team that has proven itself to have skilled 3 point shooters, can shoot that poorly. We’ve made 7 in 60 shots, Northwestern made 5 in 6 shots the other night, and that isn’t even all that out of the ordinary. Even crappy teams go on streaks like that all the time.

We can wring our hands and point to the “little things” and accuse our players of being soft or whatever, but the long and short of this stretch is that we are 7-60 from 3 and our opponents are 27-53. How in the world are you supposed to compete in games when the shooting numbers look like that? You can’t. It’s just been a terrible stretch, and it’s not like the quality of shots has been any different between us and our opponents It’s just the fact that they’ve been making them and we haven’t. If Indiana had those shooting discrepancies, they’d lose 3 in a row too. So would Michigan, so would Duke. You simply can’t win when the other team can’t miss and you can’t throw it in the ocean. Ans don’t tell me it’s the quality of the shots.

One other thing Robert…if we go 8-10, we are in the tournament. Don’t forget that there are 68 teams. You aren’t going to see a middle of the pack Big Ten team with 22 wins get left out in a 68 team tournament.

Steve January 19th, 2013

I’m going to agree with you some, but disagree just as much. The stats you post are horrific, truly unbelievable and no amount of anything will fix shooting 12% from the arc while your opponents shoot 51%. In fact, their 27 threes versus our 7 accounts for 60 points, enough to win those games.
However, to suggest that our problems will go away as soon as we go from shooting 12% to 51%; that sounds pretty incomplete to me. I mean, sure, that would do it. But since no one can do that consistently, what is the point of even saying it? Very teams shoot 51% from everywhere, much less from outside the arc.
So, it has to be a blend. Shooting is required, yes, but so is some better defense. We can’t keep letting people have career nights on us. I like Grogs perspective. Hold your man 3 points under his season average and you’re my man. You’ll play more, we’ll win more.

IlliniJeffrey January 19th, 2013


I’m not saying that we have to go to 51% or that we should expect that. I’m saying that things should even out a bit. We’ve shot around 40% for significant stretches for example. It’s not outrageous to expect both us and our opponents to come back to the mean. If we can get back to shooting an average percentage while holding the opponents to an averge percentage, things will get better quick, and that’s not asking much.

IlliniJeffrey January 19th, 2013

By the way…i was wrong about the 7-60. we are actually 8-60 :)