Tate: Illini are on quite the power trip

Tate: Illini are on quite the power trip

Overnight, John Groce has created a monster.
Look out, Tom Crean. Don’t forget to duck, Tom Izzo. There’ll be a new buzz in the Assembly Hall Sunday (Gardner-Webb) and Wednesday (Georgia Tech) when we see these South Seas warriors in the flesh.
The bodies look the same but the minds have clearly received a makeover.
Illini basketball has been transformed from last season’s tight,
despondent and sometimes tearful gang into an ultra-confident squad that thinks every shot is going in. They took Groce’s green light and turned it into a flashing red siren.
Is Groce a coach or a psychiatrist?
Hey, look over here, you Top 25 voters. It’s a small sample, but look who has the best record (6-0) in the nation’s best conference, this after wading through a Maui Classic featuring such well-oiled machines as North Carolina, USC, Marquette, Texas and Butler ... the Illini amassing a 70-point scoring margin and without ever trailing in three games.
Look who’s shooting without a conscience and leading the nation in three-point baskets. Is there still a 35-second clock? Uhh, don’t know. It never came up.
Look who’s switching and hedging and recovering on defense like new-born fanatics, and slipping in a zone when nobody’s watching.
Look who produced the tournament MVP (Brandon Paul), a tourney all-star (D.J. Richardson), a point guard worthy of the name (Tracy Abrams) and two lankies who stepped up at key moments (Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand).
Even as Paul drew individual accolades, the Hawaiian excursion was a collaborative effort. Like Tuesday night when Bertrand came off the bench to lead scoring with 14 points. Fourteen was tops in an 84-61 romp against Chaminade. That’s a team effort in the extreme.

Movin' on up
Then came Butler. It’s on your mind, so why not get it out.
On one bench sat a laid-back Brad Stevens, the two-time NCAA runner-up who could have named his own price by moving two hours west. On the opposite bench was the fiery Groce, alternate choice after leading Ohio’s Bobcats into the NCAA Sweet 16.
Butler’s reputation and gritty defense didn’t faze Illini swagger. They led 13-5 in the first five minutes, built margins to 23-10 and 37-22 despite incredible arc-shooting by Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke (last-shot star of Butler’s 72-71 defeat of Marquette) and showed five members notching treys in the first half.
How, Mr. Stevens, do you pack it in and set your missile defense when UI bombs are flying in from all directions? The Butler coach remained calm, which is his nature, but he didn’t have an answer.
Illinois slowed somewhat after the break but managed to fend off the appropriately named Bulldogs, an ever-improving Griffey sticking two treys between Paul and Richardson goals that ended all doubt at 59-44.
When the Bulldogs tried to foul their way back in, the Illini converted 15 of their last 19 points on free throws, demonstrating one more time why the end of basketball games can be so ill-conceived.
Analyzing the massacre he had witnessed, Stevens said: “Anybody who thinks that is a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, I would argue with them.”

Hot to trot
If this sounds like an Illini three-point blizzard that can’t last, well ... here are some stats. Even now, as Illinois leads the nation with 11.5 treys per game, there are 40 teams shooting a higher percentage than the UI’s 41.1.
That’s not to say they can sustain that for a season but, consider, Indiana and Creighton shot 43.3 and 42.5 last season.
“We can shoot,” Groce said. “Maybe one through nine, we have the best shooting team that I have coached.”
Then, adding caution: “This is an extremely great start for our basketball team, but we have to make sure we do not eat the poisonous pill of success. We’re just six games in. We have a long way to go.”
Rebounding has been up and down, and remains a concern. The Illini sorely miss Meyers Leonard, who turned pro after his sophomore year.
Butler was more physical in the paint Wednesday, knocking the Illini around and winning the backboard battle while hauling down 15 offensive boards.
Groce has resolved one concern by insisting the Illini be “shot ready” and take every open opportunity without blinking. Fixing the rebounding for the rigors of Big Ten play will be another challenge.

Loren Tate writes for the News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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blmillini wrote on November 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Make up your mind Tate.  Is this group the terrible bunch of basketball players you wrote about before the season or what we see now?  You are the N-G version of Geraldo Rivera or Nancy Grace.


Bwp 5P wrote on November 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm

blmillini.........are you married to Moonpie?????

SwifferFan wrote on November 23, 2012 at 6:11 am

You're right, Mr. Tate.  John Groce has transformed these young men inside and out.  It's fun to watch players enjoy playing and winning too!  I am hopeful, for the season, but realistic.  The Illini will face many great teams this season.  Yes....be careful of swallowing the poison.  Each game will have new challenges.  I'm convinced our new coach has the skills (be it psychological or experiential) to guide these young players to their fullest potential.  Let's keep enjoying the ride and hope for more success and avoid the poison.

Green Shirt wrote on November 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

These Illini are lots of fun to watch, but I can't help but remembering that last year's Weber coached squad started 10-0.  One might say I am cautiously optimistic.

PeterE wrote on November 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

Even when last year's team was eeking out victories early on, I didn't have the sense that they were dominating or could hold up to a real challenge. Not until the Missouri game and the meat of the Big Ten season were they really tested and begun to fall apart, first into inconsistency then near total collapse. It is still early to see whether this team will stay consistent or can beat highly ranked foes coming up. But Groce gives us hope and confidence that he has crafted a team with much more toughness, confidence and agressiveness than we have seen the last few years. Same players but different outcome. Groce offensive and defensive system maximizes the players' strengths rather than shoehorn them into something that doesn't quite fit. The transformation in Griffey, DJ and Brandon can not go unnoticed by anyone who has watched them the last four years. It is as though their talents were bottled up for years and then this year they have finally been unleashed. In past years they were playing afraid to make a mistake, to miss a shot, to take a wrong step. Bruce Weber by his own admission said he erred at Illinois by playing not to lose rather than instilling toughness in his players and developing them. Instead Weber had them playing timid and scared and it cost them a lot of games. Players didn't play to their potential, players didn't improve much, players weren't tough enough, aggressive enough or confident enough. Even though there are 6 former top 100 ranked recruits on the roster, their talent and skills seemed to be masked and throttled under Weber, while Groce has harnessed their power and allowed it to flow freely.

Yes, anyone who has watched the Illini the last four years can see a most definite change in the team and each individual player this season. It is a breath of fresh air and exciting.

patrick wrote on November 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

Like Green Shirt, I'm cautiously optimistic, but I remember last year. And, I still don't know whar REALLY happened last year.

Can anyone explain what Groce has done with this team? Is the system that different from Weber's. I've only been able to see one game so far, so, I can't tell. However, this team seems to be so much more energetic and disciplined than last year's. Also, they don't seem prone to folding the tent when things go badly.  Can a coaching change install inner toughness to a team?

I love what I see so far...I just don't have concrete answers to what's caused the change.

Moonpie wrote on November 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

It's Saint Tate on a power trip. I like this team so far. And Groce, too. They played hard and earned the tourney title. 

But it's really early to crown them. And Tate's "logic" is skewed--Illinois didn't actually play NC or Texas or Marquette, but in his soybean field mind their presence in Hawaii is enough to hype the tourney win beyond what is real. It does not follow that because Illinois won the tourney that had they played those three teams they would have beat them, too. Groce will warn his players not to buy into the Sleepy Gazoo cheerleading.

illinihimeyiswhiney wrote on November 23, 2012 at 5:11 pm


It's Chubacca Moonpie on a power trip. He likes this team and Groce until it will be convenient to dislike them and then proceed to throw them all under the bus so he bring up this article and rail Tate about the fact he wrote it if things go south this season. 

Technically we can crown them for winning the tourney so I'm unsure why he would say it's too early to crown them, perhaps being more specific of what we cannot crown them for would be useful but then he might have to explain himself later... He'll avoid that for now. The bottom Line is Moonie’s "logic" is skewed. In his arrogance re: people not from a big city their beating good teams, and teams that beat better teams, is not enough to allow Tate to write an article about how this team is different from last years team. It does not follow because he sits there and tells everyone to be open minded while he refuses to just let Tate write about whatever he wants. Per the usual he'll get on here and using his best woke yell shout down Tate and everyone else who might point out his stupidity. Grocer should be careful to also warn his players about how the "sleepy gazoo" not only cheerleads but also, at the same time, throws the football program under the bus and therefore might not actually cheerlead all the time. Unless moonpie is saying they are cheerleading until they write something bad so moonpie can complain about how negative they are....

Good news is folks Moonpie has acknowledged he was once a Pulitzer Prize winner so we can trust he knows something about anything! Thank the gods for his insightful wisdom and unbiased willingness to share his point of view and tolerate others. 

illiniearl wrote on November 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

To see the difference, all you had to do was tune into the K-State/Michigan game today.   It's a world of difference!   Coach Wilborn (copyright by me; all rights reserved) got his team to the 40 point mark with 7:40 left in the game.

Yes, it's still very early in the season and the Illini will very likely stumble along the way at some point (it the Big 10 for crying out loud) but live the moment!   The style of play is electrifying and feeding off the player's strengths.

IlliniMike05 wrote on November 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

So if he thought they weren't good before the season and is then presented with new information, he shouldn't update his opinion? How stupid would that be? 

And when, specifically, did he say these were terrible basketball players? Either a link or an admission that you have no idea what you're talking about will be fine, thanks. 

pblillini wrote on November 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

I think it's pretty easy to see what happened last year, and the several years before.  Bruce Freakin' Weber.  Guy bled confidence out of players at an alarming rate.  His tearing down of guys to the media, his constant nagging and yelling from the sidelines, it's no wonder these guys played scared all the time.  Now they have a coach that builds them up.  Encourages them to shoot.  If you need proof look at some of the comments Griffey has made.  "Most fun I've had playing basketball in a long, long time."  And the story he recounted about the coaches telling him not to pass up shots.  It's quite telling.

I don't see how anyone can look at this year and last year and not see what the problem was.  Weber was a horrible coach here.  It's just that simple.

LoyalIllini wrote on November 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

I like this:  "The bodies look the same but the minds have clearly received a makeover".  Maybe their hearts changed to?

kzimmer001 wrote on November 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

I think its okay for the coaches, the players and the fans to feel good.  The Illini not only won the tournament, they won by 30, 23, 17 points, attacked and dominated at both ends.  Nobody that I know believes they have arrived or they can't improve -- but this start is like a new morning for the Illini.  The B1G teams will no doubt have Illinois scouted better, rebounding will be a challenge, etc. But the Illini and their fans, today, we smile.

tonyjb37 wrote on November 23, 2012 at 9:11 am
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A great coach comes in and wins,wins,wins, immediately and that is what John Groce has done because he is a great coach!!!!!!!!!!  keep this guy around for a long time!!!!!! Forget fooseball and that quack that we got running it, basketball, the womens and the mens teams both have winners coaching them!!!!!!!! Glorious days are ahead, Yeah! I have seen it over and over again and again great coaches dont need time! 

IlliniMike05 wrote on November 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm


lmaran wrote on November 23, 2012 at 9:11 am

I am enjoying this Illini team; the polls, what things could be by January, by sheer projection, etc. are irrelevant to my feelings at this point.  I will trust that the coaches will continue to build where the team needs it, such as rebounding. The cornerstone might have already been in place - restoring confidence.



IlliniMike05 wrote on November 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm

This team had two major concerns coming into the year: ballhandling and rebounding.

Rebounding is still a concern, though I think if Henry keeps getting better overall he can earn more minutes and help out there. Joe and Brandon are good rebounding guards and have alleviated some of the problems there. Still, an issue.

Ballhandling? Not so much. BP3 and TA's A/TO rate aren't that great, but that's an overrated statistic if your ballhandling can lead to creating buckets for yourself, which both of them had. Still could be an issue, but much less of one. D.J. and Joe are making plays off the dribble, too. I hate to pile on Weber, but for each D.J. and Joe the quality of their handle for an off-guard were reasons each was highly touted in high school. Now that they're in a system in which they're encouraged to attack and take chances, we're seeing a difference. The overall assist percentage is low, but that's a stupid statistic that doesn't tell you much about overall efficiency anyway. If guys are creating for themselves, that's more important.

If more help in the ballhandling department is needed, I really think Latulip could help. Dude has a nice handle, he's quick of foot and even quicker on his release. I really think he could be a rotation guy.


Bleed Orange and Blue wrote on November 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I can't believe Thomas hasn't thought of this:  Why  don't they let Groce coach the football team tomorrow!!??  Maybe salvage at least one Big Ten game??  If nothing else let him address the team before the game and at halftime.