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I Like Where This Is Going February 17, 2013

Minutes after the Gonzaga win, I tweeted the following:

Sure, I was swept up in the euphoria of beating a top-10 team on the road (a top-10 team that now has a decent shot at a 1-seed, by the way). But that’s how I felt at the time. If we can win at Gonzaga, is there any arena where we can’t win?

And then we lost at Purdue.

And then we lost at home to Northwestern.

And suddenly we were 2-7 in the Big Ten with #1 Indiana coming to town and a trip to #18 Minnesota over the weekend. At that point, my feelings were the exact opposite of that Gonzaga tweet. Is there any arena where we CAN win, Assembly Hall included?

Now… well, now I like where this is heading. Just this week: 20 point win over a Purdue team that we lost to in January. And now a 21 point win over a Northwestern team that we lost to in January. What once looked insurmountable at 2-7 now possibly becomes 7-7 on Thursday night. At home. Against winless-in-the-league Penn State. Winless-in-the-league Penn State who just played two back to back great games where they hit everything… and lost.

And the Michigan and Ohio State road games? Don’t they suddenly seem a lot more attainable? I’m not saying we’re going to win at either place, but both teams are kind of a mess right now. Truth be told, the way Iowa has been playing at home (combined with the fact that we never play well at Carver-Hawkeye), well, that road game might scare me more than the other two right now.

Bottom line: our last two home games are against the worst two teams in the league – Penn State and Nebraska. So there’s 8 wins (and an absolute lock for the tournament). But in addition to that, right now, I have to say that 1-2 in our three road games is the probable outcome. With 2-1 being in the realm of possibility.

Looking back at our last four road games (at Nebraska, at Michigan State, at Minnesota, at Northwestern), don’t you have to say that we’re playing really, really well on the road right now? If Michigan State doesn’t shoot 88% from the field in the second half, we’re talking about a four game Big Ten road winning streak.

I really like where this is going.

A few thoughts on the game:

+ DJ is maybe third team All Big Ten at this point, right? He has to be. On New Years Day, it looked like Brandon Paul was headed for First Team All Big Ten and possibly second team All American. And now I’m pretty sure that DJ might finish ahead of him on the All Big Ten teams.

Which raises an interesting point which will probably become an entire post come tourney time (TOURNEY TIME!!): DJ started the season OK, but then fell back a bit around the first of the year, and has now surged to what we all expected after his freshman year. Tyler started out red hot and then went ice cold, but in the last two weeks has cranked up everything from his shooting to his offensive rebounding. Brandon started out scalding hot (he was probably a first team All American after the Gonzaga game) but has cooled considerably.

The post I’ll probably write in a few weeks: If Brandon climbs all the way back, we’re a team that nobody wants to play in the tournament.  Come at us, America.

+ How long ago does “live by the three, die by the three” seem? Was that even this season? We shot 30% from deep at Northwestern but won the game in other ways (namely, shutting down their putrid offense and DJ and Tracy finding creative ways to score). What was the last game where the three-ball won it for us (like it won the USC, Butler, Georgia Tech, and Gonzaga games)? The threes stopped falling, we started losing, so we found other ways to win.

+ A friend sent me a text after the game:

Ho-hum whatever Big Ten road win. How long has it been since we could say that??

Good question. My first thought was Nebraska this year, but the Huskers cut it to six in the second half, so that one wasn’t very ho-hum. Last year we had exactly one Big Ten road win (at Northwestern, where Meyers Leonard blocked a shot from Drew Crawford that would have won it).

We won at Iowa by 10 in December 2010, but that was a 6 point game with seven minutes to go. We beat 6-18 Indiana by 13 in February 2009, but the way I remember that game, we had a big halftime lead that they cut to five or so with five minutes left before we pulled away.

So I think the answer is February 12, 2008 at Minnesota. We were 11-13, Minnesota was 15-7, but somehow we strolled into The Barn and came away with an inexplicable 24 point win. And then we finished 5-13 in the conference.

Yes, more than five YEARS since our last “ho-hum, whatever” Big Ten road win.

+ OK, so 8-10 is certain and 9-9 is possible if not probable, with 10-8 still on the table as well. Given with the media mock selection committee came up with this week (Illini = 18th best rating from the committee and a solid 5-seed), I’d say an 8-10 Big Ten finish (plus a loss in the Big Ten Tournament) is probably an eight-seed or so, with 10-8 Big Ten finish (plus a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament) maybe climbing us as high as a… four seed?

If I’m completely honest, I have my eyes set on a six seed. Because I hate the top of the bracket. I’m so sick of the top of the bracket. We’re on this crazy streak of 11 straight top-of-the-bracket seeds: Since 1998, when we make the tournament, we’re either a one, four, five, nine, or twelve seed.

So give me a six-seed, across from three-seed New Mexico.  Throw in Gonzaga as the two as well.


Illinigrad February 17th, 2013

Hey Robert — Let the good times roll. Let’s win the National Championship. Pour me more orange drink. This is FUN. It is like driving a new car with a REMOTE starter. They, remote starters, are so great in the winter. This team is now humming along like a nice motor. And, if they happen to lose a game between now and the BTT, no worry. The guys will bounce back.

Duce20 February 18th, 2013

I would say the 3 won us the Minnesota game. 11-23 from 3 and only 7 2point FGs made.

Lou-a-villini February 18th, 2013


TC80 February 18th, 2013

I was just thinking last night that DJ may be working his way up the All-B1G lists. If he keeps this up, he may find himself on the 2nd team. He’s averaging 14.7 pts/game in conference play, and that goes up to 17.3 pts/game starting with the Nebraska game (taking into account the home game against NW was likely the low point of the season before this recent run). Add in his defense and rebounding, and I think he’s definitely on pace for some kind of all-conference honors. Great to see everything click into place for a senior like him.

thegoah February 18th, 2013

For someone with such a long memory, you sure do have a short memory.
Not to go all JJ on you but how can you say ANYTHING is certain with this team? As the tweet comment said, you seem gone taunting the gods.
I dreamt last night that we lost 168-171 to a women’s team.
I love what we’ve seen lately. I believe JG has helped these guys turn a corner. But “certainty”–even home win vs PSU certainty–evades me for now. We need a larger body of work for that.

CTillini February 18th, 2013

Goah -
I’m with you; there are no certainties with this club or more generally in this league. That said, Groce has these guys playing with so much confidence that it’s tough to envision not getting it done on Thursday.

Loved some of the new wrinkles in the half court offensive sets last night. Running the big guys (particularly Egwu) off two weakwide screens to the low box really kept things moving. Could’ve won that game by 35.

If these guys continue with this level of focus, particularly on defense, they will be a tough out of the tourney. Certainly a 6-7 seed no one wants in their bracket.

Bless you, John Groce. Keep ‘em dialed in for another few weeks and stand back.

Robert, thanks for all your work on this site.

illiniranger February 18th, 2013

@ thegoah,
we are illinois and we can’t be trusted. but…
i think the difference between now and then is that before our swoon you could see signs everywhere that we maybe weren’t so good. Gardner-Webb, Norfolk State, WCU, etc. then we swooned. But then we beat IU, then Minny on the road, then 40 mins of dominance against both PU and NW. this team appears to be locked in and playing their best bball of the year, even better than in Maui considering we are running through the B1G now.

ATOillini February 18th, 2013

No doubt NW was scary bad last night, but it was very encouraging to see the hustle plays even in the last few minutes of these last 2 blowouts. The league is just crazy, so can’t get too high or low after any single game. For you to refer to Michigan as “a mess” would have seemed inconceivable just a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, MN gets a great ot win vs. WI, starts out with a 15 or so point lead last night at IA, and then proceeds to implode.
Stay focused guys.

neale stoner February 18th, 2013

Take a deep breath. Northwestern is terrible.

Hoppy February 18th, 2013

Joe John (wherever you are),
I don’t mind that you think JG was a bad hire or that only two weeks ago you were probably feeling really confident about what you were saying on here. But what I do mind is your hypocrisy. You have said many times on this blog that you are simply telling it how it is. You are being objective. You are living in reality. Well, reality is, we are currently on a 4 game winning streak. And although losing to Penn State would be awful, (and it could happen) we could extend that streak to 5. We are easily back on the bubble and a few wins away from being a lock.
So, instead of disappearing, why not chime in? Maybe a “dang…they are performing a bit better than I though” or, shoot, maybe even try to say how this winning streak still proves JG is a bad coach and we aren’t going to be a bubble team this year. I don’t know…just chime in man. Right now, your “objective” analysis of our team only occurs when we are down. I think it’s time to stop being a hypocrite and start actually being objective. (Too your credit, I think you said some very neutral if not slightly positive things about the Indiana win)
Also, in case anyone forgot (and because he won’t show himself) JJ’s opinion of our team/coach/Robert’s view, I dug up a few quotes from just before his disappearance as a refresher.
“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.”
(This is my favorite, especially the last sentence)
“Robert, I have to ask…you must feel silly wanting to give John Groce an extension back at Christmas time. 4 straight double digit home losses. That is unheard of. This guy isnt a good coach. His offense is playground nonsense and his defense is a ton of switching which results in mismatches that good coaches exploit. Wisconsin didnt even play that well today and won easily.
Looking forward to your mea culpa.”
Come on back JJ. Tell us how we are wrong, over hyping “easy” wins, or maybe (Heaven forbid) that you could be wrong about JG. Not that you ARE wrong, but that it will take time to really decided how well of a coach he is. (Something that everyone has told you since you started bashing him vehemently)

illinifanbobj February 18th, 2013

Joe John will be back. Maybe he’ll be back on Thursday night or on Sunday night, or some later date. Or during spring football or the regular football season after the first loss. But we all know that he will be back…
The moment a negative doomsday comment is needed, Joe John will be there for us. Have no fear, Joe John will be hear. Have faith.

ILLINI08 February 18th, 2013

I think the hitman Robert sent to JJ’s house finally came through and broke all his fingers.

Lou-a-villini February 18th, 2013

“Please lose to Penn State….Please lose to Penn State…..Please lose to Penn State.


J.J. Putz”

Steve February 18th, 2013

This isn’t my idea, it has been out there for a while, but I have become completely convinced that J J is Robert. Whenever Robert wants to be positive, but has nagging doubts, J J appears. Right now Robert has no doubts. Everyone is feeling good and it isn’t weird to write positive commentary. Sure, there is the awareness that a team (any team) can stumble and that we could easily be right there. But we are playing well and it is terrific fun. So J J sleeps.
He will be back, simply because no team is good enough not to have a dark side, lurking deep inside the brain, waiting for the stumble.
Meanwhile, this is a great deal more fun. I’m predicting a 7 seed, just to take a position. And if that happens, this season will be a success, all things considered. And I have hopes and dreams for more.

Hoppy February 18th, 2013

I know we rarely talk about it but the women’s team has really picked up in conference play. They are about to beat Wisconsin and go 8-4 in the conference I believe. No too shabby considering where they are coming from.

illiniranger February 18th, 2013

@ Steve,
i never believed the Robert as Joe John thing, but doubt is starting to creep in that he is. I mean seriously, there isn’t a single JJ comment when times are good, but as soon as they are bad he comes out of the woodwork. also, i can’t remember ever EXPLICITLY denying that he is not JJ.
whoever JJ is he’s not a real person. or a better way to phrase it, he’s somebody’s alter ego. For example, there are plenty of nutjobs on the .scout message board and they are out good or bad. whoever is playing the role of Joe John has admirable discipline – not the discipline i would expect from a person that truly believed what he is writing.

GrogsBBQPepperoni February 18th, 2013

Let’s just ignore JJ and whether he chimes in or not. If you can’t enjoy this little run, you’re not a true fan and should be ignored on a pro-Illini blog. Go Illini! This is a fun stretch. I pity the fool who can’t find the fun in this. Seeing the score at 45-15 and watching the Mildcats flop like soccer players on their home floor was pretty damn funny.