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The Climb Back January 27, 2013

My last roommate before I got married was a Michigan fan. He was actually an Arkansas fan first, Michigan fan second. I should clarify.

He grew up a Michigan fan. His dad went to Michigan and took the family to Michigan games and had the kids decked out in Maize and Blue from birth. So until he was 18, he ate, drank, and slept Michigan.

But he went to Arkansas for college. And he was at Arkansas when they won the NCAA basketball title in 1994. And he said it was around the time of that title that he felt his heart switch from the Wolverines to the Razorbacks. To the point where, when Michigan and Arkansas played in a bowl game around 2001 or so, he actually cheered for Michigan.

Why am I telling you this? Because we watched the 2005 Illinois at Michigan game together. That was the game where our undefeated, #1 in the country status was in jeopardy. He was respectful, given his “I’m a Razorbacks fan now” status, but he was pulling HARD for Michigan.

Dee made those back to back to back steals, and we pulled away, and he was upset. He broke. “Michigan basketball should be in the tournament every year. We should be one of the top 10 programs in the country! And here we are, missing ANOTHER NCAA tournament.” He just couldn’t believe that Michigan had fallen so far.

I still can’t believe that Illinois has fallen this far. I know, I know – Michigan is the best team in the country. They’ll be #1 in both polls tomorrow. Every time we tried to sneak back in, they slammed the door on our fingers. Tim Hardaway Jr. is an cold-blooded killer. The spring in his step when he has the chance to hit a dagger shot is amazing. Deron Williams-esque. Combine that with Trey Burke and some great freshmen and, well, best team in the country.

And it has me feeling like this moment is the exact opposite of watching that game with my roommate in 2005. Michigan basketball is all the way back. They hung on to Amaker too long (“won the NIT – gotta see what he can do with next years’ team”), and it took a long time for Beilein to build it back up. 10-22 disaster, then 21-14 NCAA tournament team, then a fall back to 15-17, then two straight tournaments leading to, well, tomorrow and a #1 ranking.

Illinois? Well, we held onto Weber like Michigan held onto Amaker. In 2008, when it was all falling apart, I could be found screaming “you CAN’T fire Weber – we’d lose Jereme Richmond plus Paul and Richardson!” And a program that could have begun rebuilding in the fall of 2008 was instead delayed until the spring of 2012. And now, after today, it feel like we have such an incredibly long way to go to get back to the top tier of the Big Ten. Four home losses in seven years, and now 28 in 6+ seasons. Incredible.

I’m still inside the Hall as I type this. Didn’t go down to the press conference. Don’t really care about the quotes right now, to be honest. I’m just sitting here looking at all these empty gray seats and replaying the tumble that brought us here. My emotions are tracking exactly with my half-Michigan fan roommate in the first year of the Beilein regime.

That night, I remember discussing the 1989 Final Four. With Illinois ranked #1 and undefeated, and Michigan on their seventh consecutive NCAA-less season, all he could hold over me was the 1989 semi-final. He was still a full fledged Michigan fan in 1989, and he would have never believed that the program that won it all back then would then eventually go TEN consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance (from 1999 to 2009).

I should call him tonight. Tomorrow is Michigan’s official “all the way back” moment – much like our 2004 victory over Wake Forest here – and I’m curious how he’ll feel about it. Actually, I know the answer to that. He’ll say that his heart switched to the Razorbacks in 1994, and he can’t believe that THAT program has fallen as far as it has.

I guess I’m left thinking that I didn’t enjoy the 2000-2006 run enough. I should have learned my lesson when the Flyin’ Illini were grounded by Bruce Pearl, but I didn’t. It can all go away in an instant, and the fight to get back up there can take a long, long time.

Just ask Michigan. And Arkansas. And Illinois.

ATOillini January 27th, 2013

I was absolutely sure that the unexpected dunk put back by TG early on was going to be the catalyst sending him into a scorching “he’s made 4 threes in a row” run. But, alas, reality struck. Wolverines are great. They’re what you want in college ball. Illini tried, but the better team won, and the score was probably the average of what a 10 game series would look like. Just better basketball across the board. After watching Hoosiers/Spartans earlier, we can only hope one of them lays an egg against us. Otherwise, more of the same.
Most encouraging thing to me about this game?……..This is Beilein’s 6th season. It’s going to take time. Hoping Illini fans realize that before calling for a coaching change.

Joe John January 27th, 2013

Michigan was a 3 seed last year.
I’d say they were “back” last season.

Beilein simply has a great eye for talent. He found a Darius Morris, that went to the NBA. A Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway…he got in on Glenn Robinson when he was a lowly rated guy before he blew up. Then a Stauskus is a good player. This guy obviously knows talent.

For Illinois, John Groce is simply not a very good coach.
If he was, the Illini would not have lost 3 straight games at Assembly Hall by 14+ points for the first time since the 1970s/

illiniranger January 27th, 2013

JG doesn’t have a single player playing for him that he recruited. if our worst year is a bubble year we are probably ok. hell, IU won what, 9 games in Crean’s first year? i have seen enough JG to like it. i think we are going to be in a good place in bball 5 years from now, but it’s going to take a full 4-5 years to get all the way back.

thegoah January 27th, 2013

JJ is so cute when he points out that Beilein kicks Groce’s butt as a coach. What was their record against one another? But then again, Groce had the full force of Ohio University behind him when he beat Beilein.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 27th, 2013

Holy hell joe john, shut the f up. Mike Thomas is bad, John Groce is bad. Tim Beckman is the devil with chewing tobacco. Geez, quit your bellyaching. You are the definition of a broken record. WE GET IT – YOU DON’T LIKE THEM. Get some new material?

Joe John January 27th, 2013

Ranger – Illinois isnt going to be a bubble team this year. And next season will be worse.

And Grogs – I can only call em like I see em. Reality. I live there. I think Robert is beginning to pack his bags and move there as well.

Illinigrad January 27th, 2013

It is beyond painful to endure “rebuilding” in both BB and FB and hear talk that it will take years in both sports. UI should just drop out of the Big 10, become the public University of Chicago, and play club sports across the board. Use M. S. to invite bands in and raise money for charities, like Farm Day, etc. Following your favorite teams is supposed to be fun. IL FB and BB is not fun and won’t be for a long time unless the right coach with the right elixir shows up. I can’t think of a university administration and BoT that has screwed up hiring so many times in a time window of approximately a half a century.

PittsburghNellie January 28th, 2013

I cannot stress how upset it makes me that adding an “a” in front of a persons name has caught on.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 28th, 2013

Yes, you certainly do call em like you see em, jj. And constantly try to prove to us why you’re smarter than Mike Thomas. But answer this: Why are you only active after our losses – our down time if you will? You vanish when we’re on a hot streak. The constant bashing of the AD and head coaches in our two major sports? What true fan does that? Are one of those guys who roots against his team so that the staff members he despises so much wilk get their comeupance and get fired? Basically proving that you were correct all along? Sure seems that way. And that’s pretty sad pal.

SouthernIllini January 28th, 2013

What the hell was wrong with Brandon Paul last night?

I have to say that I was pretty encouraged by the play of the entire team last night, sans Paul. DJ played really well, Abrams is really maturing into a star, Bertrand deserves more minutes, Egwu looked like a maturing dominant post player, McClaurin played awesome too! Paul singlehandedly killed 2 of our rallies and settled for severaly lazy, long 3′s when he realized he couldn’t dribble around his defender. What was up his a$$?

But all in all, the Illini played pretty well, the crowd was awesome, and the effort was there all game long. Michigan is just the best team in the country. Duke may be the only other team in the U.S. that could give them a game if they play well. The’re stupid-deep, really talented, and they play very mature for a team with such young superstars.

I didn’t expect Illinois to win this game. Nobody should have. But I hoped to watch some effort, some creative basketball, and some fight. And I saw that. I was proud of the team last night.

What do we do from here? I think Griffey is just going to have to sit. Go with Abrams, Paul, Richardson, Egwu, and McClaurin. Bring Bertrand first off the bench and use Griffey as a spot big-man sub. He rebounded well last night, and the effort was there, but he’s kinda useless offensively if he can’t make the perimiter shot.

SouthernIllini January 28th, 2013

And I know that post was long and rambling. Sorry Robert.

But I still have to say that I LOVE Groce’s system. I love his defensive rotations, the way they take a few risks in order to create turnovers, and the way they try to constantly keep pressure on the opposing defense. I think his system will really help with recruiting of a higher-caliber player, nation-wide. It’s exciting basketball to watch.

Robert January 28th, 2013

Me questioning long and rambling responses would be like Bruce Weber questioning Tubby Smith’s propensity for going into a stall trying to preserve a 7 point lead.
Rambling is encouraged here.

Tophe January 28th, 2013

By JJ’s logic, Beilein must not be a very good coach either since he too lost 3 straight home games by 14+ in his first year coaching at Michigan. (And those 3 games were part of a 7 game streak of home losses by 8+)

illiniranger January 28th, 2013

JJ is just a professional troll. when the Illini do well you won’t hear a peep out of him. when they lose a game he comes out talking about how our coaches are terrible, how MT is terrible, how our players are terrible, and especially how all are football woes would be solved by Todd Monken at HC, Derek Leonard at OC, and Wes Lunt pulling the trigger! I would actually love that arrangement, but something tells me JJ lives in the Springfield/Rochester area.
Usually i ignore him. he used to make me angry, but now it’s just silly to let a guy make you angry because of his opinion on the interwebs. occasionally JJ will have a nice take, usually more so fball than bball and I’ll respond.
this is just typical JJ trolling right here. There’s no need for logic. JG is a bad coach because, well, JG is just a bad coach. doesn’t matter that he made two Sweet 16s. Doesn’t matter that he changes his defensive sets. Doesn’t matter that he plays and exciting style of ball. Doesn’t matter that he rides the refs and the kids seem to enjoy playing for him. Doesn’t matter that he locked down a top 100 kid from Simeon that didn’t want to come here until JG did. Doesn’t matter that he got Austin Colbert out of nowhere. Doesn’t matter that he hung onto Malcolm Hill. Doesn’t matter that he isn’t coaching a single player that he’s recruited. even if we run off a Final 4 in the next 5 years JG will still be a bad coach because we missed that one commit, or we got really lucky, or he’ll revert to the mean, or something like that.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 28th, 2013

“Southern”, I sometimes wonder if Paul scoring 43 (and his subsequent Gonzaga heroics) were the worst thing that ever happened to him. He clearly sometimes thinks it’s “BP time” on certain sets and just chucks up a really bad shot, usually a three. It seems his line in the last 6 or 7 games has been really bad. Yes, he’s getting his 14 or 18 points or whatever, but his fg percent is usually something poor. And we’re not a good enough rebounding team to overcome bad shot selection. And Grif missing the bunny layup after getting the ball under the hoop when the game was still tight? Terrible.
Oh yeah, almost forgot ranger – None of that matters. JG is a bad coach (kidding obviously). A lackluster 34-30 conf record at Ohio!!! Can you believe it? Fire him now! (BTW, Bo Ryan was 30-27 overall at UW Milwaukee before taking over at Wisconsin). Yeah, I’m now done with JJ and responding to his nonsense. His credibility ran out the 25th time he told us MT, JG and TB were awful. Seems he has an agenda hence, he really should start his own blog instead of trying to urinate all over Robert’s good blog here. Some guys just love to focus on the negative. So, have at it, pal (not you, him).

phytynlini January 28th, 2013

If I didn’t know better, I would think that JJ is actually Roberts alter ego. Able to say what he wants, or the anti ALE position, without any potential bias from the DIA. Hmmmm.

phytynlini January 28th, 2013

No offense, Robert.

SouthernIllini January 28th, 2013

I don’t know Grog, with Paul t seems like he just comes and goes. He loses focus from time to time and just forgets to play within himself. He’s supposed to be a terrific young man with great character. I know he’s vocal and a team leader. He just “blanks out” for periods of time. That’s been the knock on him his whole career here. A lack of consistency that turns him from a superstar to an enigma.

Joe John January 28th, 2013

No, Robert truly believes in John Groce (or wants to believe). So I dont think i voice his evil side at all on that. But football…yeah. i’d be shocked if he isnt thinking what I post.

Joe John January 28th, 2013

Ranger, not a very good coach doesnt necessarily mean bad coach. It could simply mean an average coach. For Illinois to get out of the hole they are in, they need a great coach. I’m confident Groce isnt that. Roll out the ball coaches need a ton of talent it work. Does anyone see Groce getting a ton of talent? Me either.

illiniranger January 28th, 2013

JJ, i think JG is a good coach, maybe a great one, time will tell.
my question to you JJ – who could we have reasonably managed to hire? Let’s take Stevens and Smart out of the equation, let’s take MT handling it out of the equation. I’ll let you name Smart and Stevens as a given. Can you name me 3 guys that feasibly could have come here that had a better track record, etc? i think JG was the best we could get at the time, and I see that working out.
interested to see who you name.

Joe John January 28th, 2013

Scott Drew and there’s nobody else that is a better fit for what Illinois needs to get back to the next level.

I also think Buzz Williams of Marquette would have been a great pick.

Joe John January 29th, 2013

More to elaborate on the Mike Thomas coach hiring process…He spent way too much time pursuing guys he had no chance at (Shaka, Brad Stevens, Kevin Sumlin). There were quality coaches available (I was a Todd Monken fan myself), but even if Thomas wanted to only hire a coach with head coaching experience…there was a guy at Baylor that looked mighty good last year. He had graduated RG III, the Big 12 was falling apart…why not make the call?

On the basketball side…Buzz, Scott Drew, and even Frank Martin were better choices. I’d have really enjoyed seeing Frank Martin’s toughness on this team instead of Groce’s rah rah soft jump shooting nonsense. I dont necessarily mind giving a mid major coach a chance, because it did work with Bill Self. But Self was already a phenomenal coach even at Tulsa and Oral Roberts. His record was tremendous. With Groce…again you’re hiring a 500 MAC guy and telling him to dig Illinois out of a hole. It doesnt take a genius to figure out that probably wont work.

Lou-a-villini January 29th, 2013

Scott Drew? Just what the UI needs….more scandal. Nice try, JJ.

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 29th, 2013

“Pursuing guys he had no chance at”. That comment is complete opinion, not fact. I’m guessing he had to think long and hard about turning down the UIUC job and money. It was the right thing to go after him. And I think it was good for UIUC to make their first candidate non-white and non-old. I’d say we had a 50/50 chance to get him. With all of the above, why not make the offer?
Frank Martin is a lunatic. You will see him punch a player eventually. Probably incredibly hard.

SouthernIllini January 29th, 2013

Let’s see here, Frank Martin had 2 Florida high school champoinships vacated due to recruiting violations. HIGH SCHOOL!!! He’s also had several violations from his time at K State.

Scott Drew? Recruiting violations.

Buzz Williams? he took an extention at Marquette, there were rumors that he wasn’t interested in Illinois, and another public refusal, a la Stephens and Smart, would have been horrible for Thomas’s efforts.

But please elaborate on how Buzz Williams would have this team any better than Groce. Please explain how in 3 months, he’d secure commitments from a GREAT recruiting class and involve Illinois in the national recruiting conversation. Please tell me how Scott Drew or Frank Martin would violate their way to a top recruiting class. I’m all ears.

Hell, Frank Martin coudn’t even win at the high school level without violating recruitng rules.

SouthernIllini January 29th, 2013

PLUS, John Groce is a REALLY good coach and a fantastic recruiter, and so far (at least) has a spotless recruiting record with history in Chicago. He’s secured commitments from one of the best shooting guards in the country who just happens to be from Chicago. He’s retained one of the best all around players in the country from Belleville. He’s landed 2 very solid big men.

Given Tim Beckman’s idiotic moves all season long that have made a joke of our football program, I really think he should go. Not for his record, mind you, more for his complete lack of establishing a culture. Groce has done the exact opposite. HIs players, the students, and the alumni jumped on board as soon as they met the guy.

AHSIllini32 January 29th, 2013

I agree on Groce but I find it funny that you talk about be Oman not establishing a culture after one season in which there was a publicly talked about lack of buy-in from players

SouthernIllini January 29th, 2013

I’m not sure what you mean here….

I was talking about Beckman and his inability to establish a culture.

BexleyIllini January 29th, 2013

Joe John,

I agree with you that MT had little chance getting Shaka, Brad Stevens, or Kevin Sumlin. But, I disagree with your feeling that he spent too much time trying to get them. The fan base would have been furious had he not done everything possible to get the best available coaches, especially for basketball.

Concerning his actual hires, I think Beckman is likely a dud who will be finished at the end of 2013. The only thing positive about him was recruiting, and this has recently turned for the worse. I don’t think the new offensive coaches will turn the tide, and Gilmore’s departure hurts. I do hope that I’m wrong, but I think 2013 will be another disaster, and yes MT will be responsible for this. But, Beckman’s resume did look reasonable (by Illinois standards) when he was hired. I think it’s most important to see what MT does at the end of 2013 if we suck again.

As for basketball, I don’t think there is any coach who could have made this team a consistent winner. This squad is simply missing some critical pieces to really compete in the B1G, and I would pin this lack of personnel squarely on Weber and not on Groce. I agree with Southern that Groce’s recruiting looks solid thus far. I also like the fact that Groce was able to take Ohio U deep into the NCAA tourney last year, I don’t think this was a fluke. The jury is still out on Groce, but unlike Beckman there are a lot of positives about him.

mattcoldagelli January 29th, 2013

I’m not following the logic of “He screwed up by pursuing unrealistic options like Smart and Stevens but should’ve went for Scott Drew.” I think Scott Drew would have faced some real hurdles in getting approved by a university that – right or wrong – is still gun-shy following the Bruce Pearl incident.

Lou-a-villini January 29th, 2013

JJ, How about we try to drag Homer Drew out of retirement?

GrogsBBQPepperoni January 29th, 2013

Or even better, how about we simply root for the coach we have. And the team we have. Instead of constantly saying we don’t like him, he’ll be gone in three years, he’s not good, etc.
He’s our coach. That’s our team. Root for them. It’s really a simple concept. With Beckman, I get it – we’re a laughingstock. In hoops, it’s different. We can beat the great teams out there and have (we have beaten the current #7, #9 and #11).

illiniranger January 29th, 2013

JG is really going to work out. i think it may take 5-6 years, but the guy is just so damn impressive. i think we really got one in him.