Tate: Season of hope remains for Illini

Tate: Season of hope remains for Illini

ST. LOUIS — What did you think? That Illinois would go undefeated?

Of course not. There were too many narrow scrapes during the 12-0 run against mostly midmajors. So Saturday’s 82-73 loss to Missouri did nothing to change clear-thinking opinions about John Groce’s 2012-13 Illini basketball team?

This isn’t a Top 10 team. Maybe not Top 20. It’ll be a battle to land in the Big Ten’s first division, which is a reasonable and attainable goal that would bring an NCAA invitation.

Missouri, on the other hand, is striving to bring together mature, rugged talent that is just growing into its well-tattooed skin. If you were picking a lineup from the two squads, you might begin with Brandon Paul, and the next four would be Mizzou’s Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi and Jabari Brown.

If you’re looking for UI positives — in a game where Tracy Abrams and Sam McLaurin were ineffective, and D.J. Richardson now has missed 15 of his last 18 treys — how about Nnanna Egwu? Even as Mizzou punked the outmanned losers by 23 rebounds, pulling down an incredible 58 — 93 missed field goals allowed for that — Egwu was active and speared six offensive rebounds. He is showing signs. He was extremely active.

But beware. Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds in Saturday’s 67-56 defeat of Texas. Minnesota has a formidable 1-2 backboard duo in Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. The Big Ten is loaded. Indiana has Cody Zeller, and Iowa’s big youths are advancing. But Oriakhi did things Saturday that only big-time centers do, and now that Bowers is healthy and Brown has gained eligibility, no Big Ten team has more up-front depth than Missouri.

One-sided affair
This annual Braggin’ Rights affair is starting to look like its defunct football nephew. The Tigers have won four straight at the Scottrade Center and appear in great shape for the immediate future ... if Pressey returns.

At this point, the 5-11 junior stacks up alongside Michigan’s Trey Burke as late first-round picks but no higher because, in NBA eyes, they’re on the small side.

At the college level, Pressey may be the premier playmaker in the game. Illinois had no answer for him. As he did a year ago, the SEC preseason Player of the Year chopped Illinois’ defense to ribbons, controlling Saturday’s game even as he suffered inexplicably bad 3-for-19 shooting.

Accuracy is not his forte, his career percentage checking out at barely .400, but he rules in ways that have Tiger fans imagining Final Four potential.

Final Four? That’s heady speculation for a program that went 30-5 last season and was promptly bumped by Norfolk State ... a program that grew into a major force during the Norm Stewart regime but has never reached the Final Four.

Tate’s tidbits
— The all-orange apparel didn’t work. The Illini came out dressed in orange, right down to their socks.

— A recount of the UI’s missed shots, other than layups, during the midgame stretch of 17-plus minutes was 25. Other than eight layups and tip-ins, the Illini missed 25 consecutive attempts, including 11 treys. How did they hang in and go ahead 62-57? We’re still trying to figure that out.

— The SEC ranks No. 8 in conference RPI, just above the Missouri Valley, so Mizzou should roll in league play with all eyes on the Feb. 23 date at Kentucky. Other than the Tigers, the only AP-ranked SEC team is Florida, which lost its second game to Bruce Weber’s 9-2 Kansas State team 67-61 Saturday. Ole Miss, 9-2, has played an awful schedule and fell to Middle Tennessee State and Indiana State. And LSU, 7-2, has lost two of the last three to Boise State and Marquette.

— Auburn (5-6), the UI foe Saturday in Chicago (attendance is now at 13,000), drew 5,156 paid in Saturday’s 74-67 home loss to Winthrop. Earlier losses to Rhode Island and DePaul were at home. The UI is working to get a natural rival in Chicago, but Notre Dame and Marquette refuse.

— Illinois has one scholarship available for the next semester and has offered it to guard Ty Johnson, who is leaving Villanova. South Carolina may be the stiffest competition for him. It is expected that between 50 and 75 players will transfer from the 347 collegiate teams this month, and between 400 and 500 in the course of the year.

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

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Illinigrad wrote on December 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Unlike in football, MO appears to be the class of the SEC this season in basketball, if they continue to play like they did in St. Louis.  It was a game we could have had when we went p 64-59, but ----

blmillini wrote on December 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

Isn't that funny though, that Mizzou is likely to dominate the SEC (challenge from Florida) yet at least half of the B10 would have a great chance of beating them every time they took the floor.

DaisyJ wrote on December 24, 2012 at 10:12 am
  • Groce is doing a very good job. Had he however made the zone adjusment in the game Sat. they may have won. You clearly can stop the Pressy plays one of 2 ways. First, you can have the off ball defenders fake up toward him to stop penetration and then drop back ( will produce countless turnovers or stops) or you can go to zone. We did neither. Time after time, there was not recognition of what was happening with the guards play. Do this and you win, even with the horrible shot seleciton.


Also, when are people going to realize that long shots produce long rebounds. You should always have one or two guys run to the free throw line for the 3 point attempt rebound. DUH!

I like the team, do not miss weborn the cryborn, and hope that we continue to compete.


  • Also, just realized the word verification is actually the Hungarian language for real words. Who would have thought.
  • i WAS IN hungary last week and they use the english language for their word verification, gave everyone but me the fits.
beekay wrote on December 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I think the missed threes killed us in more ways than just coming up empty on possessions.  Those missed threes launched Mizzou into their transition game.  If our missed shots would have come from in the paint, at least we would have had a chance to get back on defense and make Mizzou work their half court set.

i couldn't disagree more with you about playing more zone defense.  We couldn't compete on the boards with them in man-to-man, so we sure as heck weren't going to rebound the ball any better in a zone defense.  I agree that they would have missed shots against a zone, but the best chance to rebound the ball was to play man-to-man.  In hindsight, given Pressey's inability to shoot well, perhaps our help defense was a little too aggressive and we should have stayed on our men to keep them off of the offensive glass.

DaisyJ wrote on December 26, 2012 at 11:12 am

bee,,you must have never played. Zoning allows all three big men to be available to rebound. No big man ever comes past the free throw lane.

Because Pressy cannot shoot well, a zone would needed to be tried. It is also much hard to dribble drive against zone.. This is why I mentioned it, this is why the zone was invented and is used.