Tate: Win was nice, but there's work to do

Tate: Win was nice, but there's work to do

John Groce’s Illini kept their weak NCAA tournament flame flickering at Nebraska.

Considering the opposition, the 71-51 win didn’t do a great deal for postseason consideration. But a non-win in Lincoln might have virtually ended it.

Thanks to D.J. Richardson’s career-best 30-point outburst, the Illini dug out of a hole and stayed alive to battle another day. Good job, D.J. It’s about time somebody shot without a conscience (he made 6 of 9 treys; his teammates hit 1 of 13).

But for all of DJR’s heroics — red hot, he racked 15 points in the last nine minutes — this turnaround was the direct result of the more athletic Illini encountering a team that they could (1) outrebound and (2) successfully defend.

While UI shooters have been performing like it was outdoors, the previous six opponents drained 48 of 111 treys, a 43 percent mark that is difficult to overcome. Nebraska made 2 of 14, appearing as arc-challenged as any Big Ten team you’ll run across. Shavon Shields, coming off 18- and 29-point sprees, reverted to freshman inconsistency by getting in foul trouble and failing to produce a field goal.

Reason for optimism?
This gave Groce a chance to acknowledge the UI defense, which hadn’t been covering itself with laurels.

“It started on the defensive end, the best we’ve played in some time,” Groce said. “D.J. was terrific on both ends (his primary assignment, Ray Gallegos, was averaging 13 and scored 5).

“We came out hard from the start, and we rebounded 12 of our 19 misses in the first half. We were locked in.

“We fouled too much (24 personals and the second Groce technical), but I’d rather see us be aggressive and then work to curtail some of that as we go forward.”

Me, too. Bump, hack and push. You never know how the refs will call a sport that defies officiating. Mauling often works for Wisconsin and Purdue ... and Michigan State. Take your chances.

Still, offensive concerns abound for the Illini, and that’s where most observers focus.

Tyler Griffey, replaced by Sam McLaurin in the starting lineup, has now missed 17 consecutive three-point shots, this by a senior who made 17 of his first 30 in November.

Preparing to face one of the nation’s premier guard-oriented teams Sunday — Trey Burke leads 17-1 Michigan against Purdue tonight — the UI continues to receive sporadic play at the point. Brandon Paul had no assists in the previous three games before handing out three at Nebraska. Paul and Tracy Abrams show 15 turnovers in the last two games, and Abrams went scoreless in 22 minutes at Nebraska.

Joseph Bertrand broke out of his mini-slump (he was scoreless against Northwestern) with a seven-point, eight-rebound game Tuesday but has missed his last six treys. The early-season outburst of deadly arc-shooting has boomeranged, the Illini making just 37 of 148 (25 percent) since Christmas.

What’s next?
Whether here or anyplace else, we once again see basketball as a streaky game with jump shooters going the way momentum takes them.

As an example, the Cornhuskers survived the UI’s early backboard assault and clung within 18-16 when they froze up and went the last nine minutes of the first half without a field goal.

That’s nine minutes, nearly one-fourth of the game, without a basket. The spread reached 35-21 shortly before the break, Illinois getting 17 extra possessions via five steals and 12 offensive boards.

Going in, and plenty concerned, a new UI staff pretended that last year’s 80-57 result didn’t matter. That is appropriate coaching strategy.

But it mattered to the players. They lived through that debacle, and it had enormous repercussions. It was during a 36-4 midgame Huskers run in the Devaney complex last February that Illinoisans everywhere came to the full realization that the Bruce Weber tenure was over.

They defeated a weak Iowa team in the Assembly Hall eight days later, but that was the only victory in the last 10 games of the Weber regime. It was a collapse of major proportions by a team that started 15-3. Tuesday’s win was significant, but it’s still an uphill grind to reach the 8-10 conference mark that may be necessary for NCAA inclusion.

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


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annabellissimo wrote on January 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

Two things:


First, the Illini beat Ohio State when that wasn't "supposed" to happen.

Second, the "unthinkable" happened tonight when Miami beat Duke.  Coach Kryzhqesksiwi  was very, very miffed by that fact, but it was a fact, nonetheless.

Things that aren't "supposed" to happen do happen.  Illinois' remembering their own capabilities and following the Groce team training can take them farther than, perhaps, Mr. Tate's article would imply is "supposed" to happen.  Go Illini!

patrick wrote on January 24, 2013 at 6:01 am

A team that lives by the three will die by the three...how I've come to hate the three point shot.

illinitar66 wrote on January 24, 2013 at 8:01 am

I think we need to come to the realization that this is going to be a crazy season with many suprises.  I guarantee nobody expected Northwestern to bean Minnesota last night.  We will probably see a few more up and downs with the team but making the tournament is still achievable.  Next few games will be very tough, but expect a few pleasant suprises.  We will have a much better understanding in the next two weeks.

penniless wrote on January 24, 2013 at 8:01 am

Great teams make things happen,its not by chance.Next 5 games we will see Groce and Company either make it happen or not.Sometimes the better talent will lose,but not  very often.

DaisyJ wrote on January 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

Nebraska did not look very good and it was not beause the U of I did. They were out of it.

While we won, we still have Paul at guard ( he should be a forward) and we stil have the big

men too interested in picking than passing and scoring. If these guys were so good, then why do they need a pick to score. Think about it. Put the big men under the basket where they belong.

Seriously, why would any big man want to play the game and in the end care less how he rebounded or scored. Really, what is going on in these kids heads. Give me the ball and get out of the way, Let me have the rebound or else. Instead, our big guys say to themselves, let me pick for you. What ever happened to a guard picking for another guard. Duh.

aaeismacgychel wrote on January 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Brandon Paul is certainly not a forward. He's a swing guard (a 3). Yes, I realize a 3 can be a small forward, but he's not, he's a swing. And that's clarly his best position. Basically he's the guard who can do a little of everything but primarily, he's best off the ball where he can either receive a pass in rhythm for an open jumper or receive a pass in rhythm and take it to the hole. Brandon is pretty much a perfect 3 and I think a lot of the reason for some of his turnovers and at times poor shot selection is forcing him to be the primary ball handler or 1. Another issue is that DJ had not lived up to his offensive responsibilities as a 2. Great to see him break out of the slump against Nebraska, but we need to see more of that and we desperately need him to make open threes. I know you don't like the three, but it's been a part of the game for a long time now. And for the past two years, the reason why we've lost so many games is that our opponent has been able to make open threes where we have not. You miss your open shots and you look a lot worse. Tracy Abrams meanwhile has the shooting skills of a 1 (basically, he needs work), has the driving skills of a 1 (very good driving), but the passing skills of a 3(he needs work). I very much like Tracy and he reminds me much of Chester Frazier. I think by senior year, he will basically fully become Chester while being a better driver, worse passer, and similar shooter.

But overall, I do think we misuse Brandon a bit out of necessity and I think he gets way too much flak for it. Seriously, if he was on Duke or Indiana's roster, they'd be talking about how he's one of the frontrunners for POY. That said, what has really really killed us has been the play of Tyler Griffey and the 4 position. We have no 4 on the team. Groce has been toying with McLaurin at the 4, and believe it or not, he actually has been a step up on both ends of the court, but it's not good enough.

Griffey is way too slow and has too little court vision on defense to be effective at a D1 level. He has gotten ripped apart by every skilled 4 we've played. He was single-handedly responsible for at least 20pts in layups in the Northwestern and Wisconsin games combined. He got lit up. And you cannot have that. When you're giving up to whoever you're guarding 20+ points a game and you're mired in an 0 for 17 slump, it's just way too much for a team to make up your -20 differential from the other 4 positions.

DaisyJ wrote on January 25, 2013 at 10:01 am

Brandon is not perfect anything. He hogs the ball too much. He shoots bad shots. He shoots so much that he averages 17 points, but only because he shoots to many 3's and too many shots. He has his hands on the  ball way too much. If I was on the team, he would understand that he needs to give it up. You can always get it back. In fact, sometimes, the short 6 foot pass and then another and then another leads to an easy basket. But dribble dribble dribble, then a pick then a shot leads to our failure. He is used wrong more than a bit, it is a whole lot.

He would be more effective as a forward.

Abrams is out of control, but then he makes an acrobatic shot and we go and forgive him for everything else. One speed , too fast is his problem.

Enough about Griffey. Play anyone but him the rest of the year. He never even had the work ethic to learn to be an inside guy. He is a wuss.


wolfe wrote on January 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Daisy seems to me it has been a while since you played the game.  Screens happen at all times from all positions to all positions.  If the big men only screen from the big men it would be pretty mundane and boring as they would run back and forth across the lane all night and the opposing team would just switch.  The offenses most college teams run get pretty complex with lots of reads, etc and can be hard for the average fan to understand. 


Paul isn't a forward, he is a small forward at best which means he plays a guards role.  At 6'5" he isn't big enough to play the power forward role.  Beloved Roger Powell wasn't big enough to play that spot either but his high motor made it possible. 


I don't like the way the offense flows right now but I loved it in Maui and against Gonzaga and against Georgia Tech, etc.  They all spend too much energy going one on one and not enough making passes and moving without the ball.  It is a factor of the poor outside shooting right now and the fact that all the B1G coaches are pretty good at their jobs and have enough film to figure out tendencies, strengths and weaknesses on our team.

Have some faith and understand the fact they were ever in the Top 25 was gravy considering how badly they finished last year and got a new coach this year.  Thing how awful the season would be if they hadn't won 12 straight.

DaisyJ wrote on January 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Wrong, the offenses are not that hard to understand, in fact, most of them are the same for each team.

You see big men running all over the place from top to bottom. Much rather have them sreen for each other next to the basket, i.e. because being so tall it is nothing for them to score form there.

Paul is a mis directed forward playing very bad guard. Did you ever see David Thompson play. He would be a handful trying to out jump for a rebound. He is plenty big enough to play either forward with todays non inside game that is played.

The offense flows as a one on one or three ball contest. Does not have to be this way. The win against Nebraska was not anyting to jump up and down about. Nebraska played bad, and not because of anyting the Illini did. Most of their mistakes were their errors.

I proclaimed last year that Griffey needs no more court time. Was I right. Huh? . Egwu should get 10 turnaround jumpers a game from 16 feet or less. Who can stop his shot. Let me tell you, the next time you watch a game, see how many times a player makes a shot that he stopped when he wanted to and put it up. Can be a difference of a split second getting just a little too close and being forced to release under pressure vs releasing a shot and actually never thinking about the defense being there or even seeing them. Scorers shoot when they want to ,not when

they almost wanted to. This is not taught because we have produced dunkers and clones that shoot the all glorius three ball.

aaeismacgychel wrote on January 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Actually it's funny you mention Egwu needing to get midrange jumpers because he certainly has been solid when put in those positions on the baseline. I agree with you, and it's actually one of the reasons to use him on ball screens for guards. By screen the guard, one of two things should happen. He either frees up the guard to force a mismatch on the switch (speedy guard who can penetrate vs. slower interior player) or he forces the help defense up while the guard he's screening gets into the chase position and Egwu slips back out of the screen for an open pick and pop from the guard he screened for.

Two things: 1. Egwu has had issues setting legal screens and his guards haven't helped him much by waiting until he's in proper position to make their move.

And 2. Illinois isn't utilizing the ball screen correctly. Actually this was something they did slightly better (only slightly though) last year as that was the majority of Weber's motion offense when it wasn't going to the high-low (which we were terrible at due to our inability to make entry passes).

The pick and pop would work with Egwu and I agree we need more of it, but that's something we haven't been utilizing and have shown poor fundamentals using. I agree that Groce should draw up set plays that call for that back pass after the screen. Egwu does show great natural ability in the times he's been used in that manner.

DaisyJ wrote on January 25, 2013 at 10:01 am

He is 6'10,,, and athletic, he needs no screens. End of story. Just post him up. But, do not expect any post man to be able to post, you see it takes maybe the first 10 seconds of the half court to get your foot work right, get you hips right, get the lean right for the big man to be fed the ball. He has not time to do this because he is running to the top of the key like a chicken with its...trying set a pick. Geeze, stop this nonsense. And, it is coming when everyone including the defense knows it is coming, come on man. What is the big surprise. Offense is not hard, never has been unless you make it hard or ask someone to do something they have a hard time with.

twiggy354 wrote on January 25, 2013 at 11:01 am

Do you understand the word "mismatch"? Well if you don't feel free to do us a favor and stop watching basketball. I understand you know the game better than those who are payed to coach it, but if you dont understand why bigs set screens for guards then you might just be the worst basketball fan ever.

Here's the explanation: a guard and big guy switching on a screen causes the two to be guarding the wrong position (how shocking!). If they don't switch (which is most teams' game plan) then there's more of a chance that the screen (whether its on or off the ball) will work. I know this is hard for you to wrap your simple brain around, so I'll give you one last, more basic explanation. Bigs are better screen setters (usually) because, you know, they're bigger. Also if egwu gets a switch and posts against a guard that sounds more effective doesn't it? Or a pick and roll. Or a pick and pop. Or, you know, very basic offensive principles that if you actually played (which you claim to have) you would understand. Maybe you just never listened to your coaches? It would explain why your free time is spent sitting on the couch and complaining incorrectly about the sport.

Seriously, the indiana fan base is waiting for you with open arms. Its just a quick jaunt over the boarder and you can be with your people.

DaisyJ wrote on January 26, 2013 at 10:01 am




Wiggy, getting to you am I . Bashing the allmight three ball shot that you have been brainwashed  into thinking is some type of skill hard to take is it. Is your sub brain telling you yes he is right but you and your friends are stuck talking about those fantastic three balls you think are great shots. Sorry, three ball is a mistake , a big mistake, no longer are correct shots or plays being run.  So, you come to the game to watch unskilled Big Gomer come out to the top of the circle to set a pick. That is what gets you off. That is what you call some real basketball. You can get the trainer or ball boy to do the same thing. Duh.                                                                                   Why do we care if they can shoot or rebound if their job in life is to pick and stand there as the shot goes up. Hey, if you are an Indiana lover, tell Bobby the choker hello. What a great example he was for your school. Be mean to win. That was his motto. Unless you were a cheerleader and then if cute enough you get in the sack with her, divorce your wife and come home to some sweetness after the game. Tell me this did not happen to your great coach, that is what I call a real winner. And come to think of it, his centers and forwards stayed under the basket and picked.

twiggy354 wrote on January 26, 2013 at 11:01 am

You are a poster child of why some people want the internet to be censored.

DaisyJ wrote on January 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Quigley, post child is a term that came about in the last 15 years, and the fact that you use it tells me you are under age 40. Tell me, when the big men were in high school, did they get used as pick makers or scorers. I think that will answer most of your troubling questions you have.

You only know basketball with the 3 point shot, this is clear. So, how is it you can be allowed to be objective in the first place. Sit and enjoy the game of horse called basketball. Maybe you will see a really long one swish in so you can go  W o W.


Let me guess, Griffey and Egwu call home, dad and mom answer, they ask, how did you do tonight son, they say, I had 3 points, but I had 26 picks mom, 26. The parents, overjoyed that their son set picks so well look at each other, overjoyede that they spent all that money on AAU teams, camps, even tutoring, so their baby boy can be excited about the picks he sets. I see

where the NCAA is thinkiing about giving points for good picks, maybe .345 of a point each time when they do it. Will that be exciting or what.....ha ha