Saturday, March 25, 2017 83
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How did the Illini stay in the Top 25? Any chance they lose to Northwestern? Is the honeymoon over for Groce? Ask beat writer Marcus Jackson, who is chatting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Submit questions any time.
Good afternoon. Apologize for the late start, just got back from John Groce's news conference over at Memorial Stadium. I have to go over to talk to players at 1:30 then a bunch of radio stuff and writing today, so this will bea quick chat.
Got a lot of questions today — usually the case after a couple of losses — so I'll try to go through as quick as I can.
Please try to explain our current shooting woes. I have watched many, many, games over the years and no matter who the coach is we go through spells lasting many games where we couldnt throw the ball in the ocean. Other major teams may have a off nite but not to the extreme that we seem to have. Do they practice shooting in practice or are we just cursed? This is ridiculous!
Yes, they practice shooting. They shoot a lot. It's just one of those things where they're in a funk, all of them, it seems.
Part of it is bad shot selection, though Groce said after the Minnesota game that they only took seven bad shots in that game. They normally take about five. Other teams are defending well, too, and it's only natural that when a couple of shots don't go down you press a bit. They've got too many good shooters for this to persist.
How did Illinois stay in the top 25 after two bad losses? Were they bad loses? Can we expect Illinois to be in the top 25 at the end of the year? How are the guys doing after the losses?
The Minnesota loss wasn't a bad loss. Though the final margin was 17, it was closer than that. Wisconsin was a six-point favorite, so it wasn't bad that you lost, but the way you lost was the issue.
I had Illinois in my top 25 and most voters did because who are you going to put in there ahead of the Illini? They've got three wins against teams ranked in the Top 15 and the only real bad loss was a conference game on the road at Purdue.
As long as Illinois doesn't lose to the Northwesterns, Nebraskas and Penn States, it will probably remain in the polls.
It sounds like, in practice at least, that the guys respond well after losses. Groce was asked about the team's confidence a couple of times today, alluding to last year's collapse, and he seemed perturbed at the questioning. He seems to think they're fine, just have to play better.
Hey, MJ - Appreciate your time on these chats. I've noticed an alarming trend the last couple of games of not getting the ball into the post at all when running the offense. It's my understanding the Groce's system involves high ball screens and driving to the basket. However, it seems like this team plays it's best when the ball at least goes inside once during a possession. I have not seen much of an effort for that at all. Is this something Coach Groce is concerned with?
The problem in the Wisconsin game was you basically didn't have a post player. Nnanna Egwu had three fouls int he first half and he got two more quick ones in the second half and was done.
They did get the ball into Sam mcLaurin a couple of times, but didn't get anything out of it.
I asked Dustin Ford, who works with the big men, last week if he would like to see Nnanna post more. He said that going forward, that's the idea, but Nnanna isn't completely comfortable down there yet. He's working on it and they don't want to force him to do soemthing yet that he's not ready to do. They're working with him to get there.
There are other ways to work the ball inside by driving and backing guys down. Brandon Paul got to the bucket a lot against Wisconsin, he just didn't finish. Other times, he got to the free throw line.
Same question, different week: when's Bertrand starting? I realize he plays starter minutes but these SLOW starts in the game is KILLING the team. This has been a problem long before Groce. If he starts, who sits? Tyler? DJ had a good game so...
Don't look for any lineup changes anytime soon. Groce said earlier in the week that just because they've lost a couple of games, they're not going to start making wholesale changes. Their stuff has worked in the past and it will work again. Bottom line is they need to play better.
Joe's a 2-3 guy, not a 4. D.J. is too valuable in too many areas not to start and play a lot of minutes, in my opinion.
Do you see any increase in playing time for Mychal Henry in the near future?
In the near future? Probably not. Saturday at Wisconsin, when Ben Brust made one of his threes in the first half, Groce was all over Henry during the timeout. That's when Mike Shaw got in the game.
The coach said last week he'd like to see Myke be more consistent in taking care of the ball and being more aggressive on the defensive glass. He's got some work to do, though I think he can be a really good player.
I enjoy the chats and thanks having them.
It seems like the hardest job for a coach is to motivate his players to play hard each game. I was at the OSU vs. Illinois game and OSU played as if they did not care. Illinois looked the same way at Wisconsin. As a sportswriter, you have seen many coaches. Whom would you rank as one of the best motivators and why.
It's hard to get 18- to 22-year-olds to bring it every night. It's a weird thing. I think even the best motivators' teams have days where they don't come out with energy. If you had asked me that question before last Saturday, Thad Matta would have been near the top of the list. I remember watching the NCAA tournament last year before John Groce was even on the Illinois radar. They showed his pre and postgame speeches on CBS and I was impressed.
He's still learning what buttons to press with these guys. I do think he's a good motivator.
The guy who gets it most consistently out of his team is Bo Ryan. Outside of Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson, they don't have exceptional athletes. His guys bring it all the time and always compete. I'd throw Matt Painter in that group, too.
What does the Wisconsin win at Indiana say about the Illinois beatdown at the Kohl Center?
It says that once again, so many were too quick to dismiss Bo Ryan and what he can accomplish with his players and his system. Again, the loss itself wasn't bad, the way Illinois lost was the problem.
Wisconsin is starting to find itself after starting the season without its point guard. Traevon Jackson has come along nicely and it looks like the Badgers might finish in the top four of the league once again and will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the 12th straight year. Not a loss Illinois should be ashamed of. A win at Iowa on Saturday and the Badgers are back in the Top 25.
MJ - Care to share your thoughts on why it feels like Illinois has been on the wrong end of so many career nights by their opponents? Thinking back to Hart (who wasn't even in the score book) to Carpenter for Minnesota, T. Johnson for Purdue, and there was surely one that I've been blessed enough to forget from the Wisconsin game. Do you think it's:
A) Confirmation bias. There really haven't been as many career highs than other teams have given up.
B) Bad luck brought on by retiring the Chief.
C) A flawed roster that for some reason seems completely unable to stop dribble penetration compounded by their proclivity for giving up fast break points and turning the ball over.
Thanks and enjoy reading your work.
I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who would pick B.
Outside of Saturday's game at Wisconsin where nothing went well, the halfcourt defense hasn't been bad. They've been allowing too many threes, however. The problem has been the transition defense. Illinois isn't turning it over a bunch, guys just aren't getting back.
When there have been issues in the halfcourt, it's because of dribble penetration. Phil Pressey was in the paint all day in St. Louis, Terone Johnson got in the paint when he wanted to, too. That comes down to competing and not letting the guy in front of you get by you.
Who is the better prospect -- Bates-Diop or Finke?
I have not seen Bates-Diop play, but based on rankings by people who make a life of these things, Bates-Diop is considered the better prospect. Illinois missed on him.
Coach G, just a thought !
you have now entered League Play, please STOP getting our brains beat in!
Start Bertran for more Rebounding, he's not getting enough minutes, WE'RE not getting enough rebounds! PRESS before falling behind so far WE cannot get back in the game! PRESS a little bit EVERY GAME, use to change opponents Point Runs ! Try pressing to get a LEAD! Love your use of the 2-3 zone also in the same fashion, to change opponents game flow! Been an Illini fan 57 years! That was Weber's Downfall, only played "man to man", He could NEVER CHANGE a Game Flow! Once he fell behind he just accepted IT and never changed his defense! Like Wisconsin does Every Year, Defense controls offense, in their slow down game of controlling things. It's not their players, it's their SYSTEM that wins every year!
Just want to see U & ILLINI succeed !
I'll make sure he reads this.
Thanks for all the questions, I've got to cut it short today to get over to the Assembly Hall to talk to players. Apologize for not getting to all the questions. Email me at email@example.com if you've got something pressing.
See you tomorrow night for Northwestern.