Tate: Loss is the same ol' story for Illini

Bo Ryan’s system isn’t complicated: Stress discipline. Make fewer mistakes, play stern defense with minimal fouls, be patient, take high-percentage shots.

Or just bore your opponent to death. That system beat new No. 1 Indiana 64-59 in the heart of Hoosierland on Jan. 15. That system has the Badgers, 6-3 in the Big Ten, poised for their 12th consecutive NCAA appearance under Ryan.

They were in typical form Sunday, building a 15-point lead and running another clinic for Illinois, 74-68, with a crisp, opportunistic approach at the Assembly Hall. Ryan has won 12 of the last 16 against Illinois and is 65-64 in Big Ten road games, the only current coach above .500. The Badgers are 9-5 in other Big Ten arenas during the last two seasons.

It doesn’t matter who dons those nameless red uniforms. Examples:

— In Madison, senior center Jared Berggren had 15 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-51 rout of the Illini. Berggren was limited by foul trouble Sunday. Up steps 6-foot-11 sophomore Frank Kaminsky, a Lisle product who attended Benet Academy. Having missed three Big Ten games due to a scratched eye, he had scored just nine points in Big Ten play, but he punished the Illini with 19 on 12-for-14 free throwing.

— Before the season, Wisconsin lost its best guard, Josh Gasser. Best guard on the floor Sunday was Ben Brust, a junior from Mundelein, who arrived with a 10-point average and shattered the Illini with 20. Said UI coach John Groce: “And he did it without fouling once (in 38 minutes).”

Fading fast
NCAA hopes for Illinois took another setback with Sunday’s loss. The Illini are 2-7 in league play with Indiana coming to the Assembly Hall on Thursday. An 8-10 league record, considered the minimum for tournament play, now appears out of reach as the Illini have dropped four straight at home.

Groce tried to send a message by not starting Brandon Paul, whose defense was unacceptable Thursday at Michigan State. The team struggled out of the gate Sunday and Paul missed his first seven shots, finishing 3 for 13.

Groce elected to insert little-used walk-on Mike LaTulip during the slow-starting first half, and the Badgers took advantage. With Illinois ahead 16-14 on one of D.J. Richardson’s two treys (no other Illini hit any), Brust shot over LaTulip for a go-ahead three. Then on consecutive possessions, the 6-foot LaTulip was forced into switches against the lanky Kaminsky, who promptly converted two free throws and a lay-in.

The lead shot to 29-22, freshman sixth man Sam Dekker garnering two lay-ins, the second after a lengthy discussion relating to an incorrect shot clock. Moments later, the half ended on Groce’s third technical of the season when he complained that Paul was fouled on a drive. Brust missed both free throws to leave it at 33-24 when the second half got underway.

Joseph Bertrand, who started in place of Paul, joined Nnanna Egwu (14 points) as the bright spots for Illinois. Bertrand scored 15 of his 17 points after the break with a series of penetrating runners. Five Illini hit double figures, but this was a repeat of Thursday’s defensive breakdown at Michigan State.

Earning their stripes
You can’t guard free throws. After allowing 32 attempts in the second half Thursday, the Illini gave up 31 more after the break Sunday.

“We are in trouble when opponents shoot more than 30 free throws in a half,” Groce said. “We made some intentional fouls late, but Wisconsin was on the double bonus with eight minutes to go.

“Defensive execution was not good. We fouled too much, we ran into screens, we didn’t trust the system. We can’t be on five different islands. We have to trust our principles. By this stage we should have some carryover collectively on defense. We have too many holes.”

Groce went on:

“We shot 54 percent in the second half, and my guess is that not many teams have done that against Wisconsin. I thought our quality of shots was pretty good.

“But it’s not about the offense. It’s about the defense. We gave up 88 percent shooting in the second half at Michigan State, and today we gave up 56 percent (the Badgers hit 10 of 18 in the second half).”

Illinois allowed fewer layups and dunks, permitting 11 easy ones and actually outscoring Wisconsin in the paint, 36-24. But the Badgers shook free on a series of close-in goals midway in the second half, rebuffing Bertrand’s hot streak and, ahead 62-47, nursed it to the finish with free throws.

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

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Rushstreet wrote on February 04, 2013 at 6:02 am

Why are we not playing zone on defense? If we are I cant recall. Earlier in the yar the zone seemed to help us when we would deploy it every so often. Can someone explain?

aaeismacgychel wrote on February 04, 2013 at 11:02 am

It's because once we've gotten to the B10 part of the schedule, our zone was getting absolutely torched. Same as it was whenever Weber switched to zone last year (which was rare. While it did work earlier in the season OOC, the off-the-ball movement, passing, and shooting have all been better from the opponent. You combine that with undisciplined players who tend to overcommit (Another major problem with Weber's teams you've had the past few years) and a zone will be completely ineffective even as a change of pace. And if you're facing a Wisconsin team that shoots very well from three, if you have a shoddy zone, they have the players to absolutely light it up (like they did against the zone when we were up in Madison the few times we switched to it).

Yes, Syracuse plays a very effective zone. They also have had that system in place for 10+ years and a fantastic college coach who implements it, and recruits players to fit his system, especially large active forwards. Really, Egwu would probably be the only player on our team who could possibly fit into his system with a year or two of learning.

And Groce, like Weber, prefers Man defense. He is more willing to switch to zone than Weber, but he isn't going to introduce a strictly zone system or even a 25% zone system. He will use a zone to try confusing the opponent's offense. Unfortunately though, once B10 season started, the only people who are getting confused by our zone are the Illini players. It's really not easy at all just to "switch to zone" with this team. Weber honestly wasn't an idiot- the reason he rarely switched to zone is he knew the team would get lit up if they played it (and they did when he called for it). Groce is learning the same thing.

namber wrote on February 04, 2013 at 10:02 am

Syracuse lives in the zone and does well.  We try it for one or two possessions and it is back to Paul getting beat.

butkus50 wrote on February 04, 2013 at 10:02 am

If the "system" is broken, change the system. Groce is working with Weber recruits, many 4 star out of high school and apparently have problems executing Weber's and Groce's systems.

Seniors: Paul & Richardson, 4 star, still here

Juniors: Head, Richmond, Leonard, 4 star, NONE left

Sophomores: Abrams, Egwu, Henry, Shaw, here but only two major playing time

Freshman: NONE

So, in four classes, we only have seniors and sophomores. We have talent, they apparently just don't quite make up a team.

I think Groce is a good coach and when he igets recruits that play his system and all four classes are represented, we will have a good program again. I think it will take a while as this season is "over"

 

aaeismacgychel wrote on February 04, 2013 at 11:02 am

I have to say, this was the first time this season I was getting pretty ornery with John Groce. I think we can all agree he was completely outcoached yesterday and there really was no gameplan for how to defend or score on Wisconsin until it was too late in the game. I also found his benching of Paul to start both the first and second halves questionable, and it certainly did not give the Illini the spark he desired.

That said, I was infuriated that he picked up a technical walking off the court at halftime. You cannot do that. Not with where the game stood at that point. That was his second bad technical this year. Or I should say a technical at a horrendous time. Giving a possession team two free throws and the ball is not smart no matter how upset you are. If you get one in the heat of the moment on a terrible call, fine, but you cannot scream and yell at the refs for the final 2 minutes of the half (who gave him an extremely long leash and latitude based on the call), then continue yelling at them into halftime and after being given a final warning, continues to go at it. What did that accomplish at that point? Maybe a technical like that can give an emotional spark to a team during play, but going into the locker room for 20 minutes? All you're doing is giving the team extra points and getting no benefit out of it.

Furthermore, while I actually don't mind Mike LaTulip getting some time on the floor, I have no idea why Groce decided to go with a backcourt of
Abrams-Bertrand-LaTulip when we had a 2 point lead in the 1st half in a tight game. With no senior leadership out there and limited ball handling skills, that backcourt was extremely overmatched by Wisconsin and the Badgers went on a 7-0 run and never gave up that lead. Not sure what Groce was thinking there, but it did not work at all. Playing LaTulip is fine, but you better have 2 of Paul, Richardson, and Abrams out there with him.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with John Groce yesterday. He just can't have games like that. Other than that, McLaurin and Egwu both played great games. The backcourt for Illinois was not good at all aside for the final 10 minutes when the game was over, and just another disappointing game. What else can one say? In another 2 years though, I really look forward to seeing Egwu play. If he continues progressing like he is, he honestly could be an NBA guy. Really good game for him.

whatwouldloudonow wrote on February 04, 2013 at 1:02 pm

This is just a really bad TEAM.  I feel sorry for Groce in a way.  He has to make due with players that obviously he did not recruit and can not play team basketball.  Well, to be fair, they did, briefly in the beginning of the season.  Which is why fans are so dissapointed now.  But the memories of this group and last years complete collapse are now coming back.  I would say we can expect four more BT wins this season, maybe a surprise or even two, but I highly doubt it with this group.  

It astounds me how utterly bad, and I mean bad, in every sense of the word our point guard play is.  We really have no point guard.  I think TA has heart and is a good kid, but he is not a good basketball player, let alone a good point guard.  This group is really one of the worst put together teams I can ever remember seeing play at Illinois (which is the same as last years team Minue Leonard).  They are just bad.  There really is no sugarcoating it.  

Illinois has fallen in this pattern of getting these kids that really are not suited for the Big Ten game.  The Big Ten game is a physical, fundamentally sound, well coached, league.  Every team is tough.  IMO Illinois needs to recruit some kids off the football team who can play basketball (for now).  Illinois has got to have the lightest, weakest, thinnest roster in the Big Ten.  There is not one bruiser who can attack the boards.  There is not one true center.  There is not one player on this team that can hold the post let alone rebound offensively.  It amazes me watching these games.  This team has an incredbily low bb IQ.  They really do not know how to win.  They are slow, cannot rebound, poorly and incosistantly execute any offense, they do not set themselves in a position to rebound, they are fundamentally terrible, they run bad ball screens, dribble away from screens, take too many one and done jumpers, too many unforced errors, they do not look up for the open man, have no power big men, and are just plain terrible definsively.  

Yesterday and games prior they get burned by the same play.  I mean multiple times.  How many layups did Wisconsin have on backdoor cuts???  That is bb 101.  I mean really, my coach taught me that in 4th grade Y basketball.  

Well I could go on and on.  But, I guess the point is, this team is years away and recruits away from becoming elite again.  It is nothing personal to these kids now.  They are just not a good TEAM collectively.  I hope they make it to the NIT.  But they have no chance of making the tournament unless they go on some major role.  But I think we have seen the best of what this team can bring.  Which was fun and exciting.  And I know we have lost players that would have made this team better, but to be fair many programs lose players.

This senior group has really proven to be one of the worst in years to go four years at Illinois.  I think they made the Tournament one of those years, but that is it.  One year out of four!!  Are you kidding me.  I have been following Illinois basketball since the early early 80's and there have not been many runs like this one.  So, this is right up there with the worst I can remember.  

I am afraid we are stuck with some of these kids for the entirity.  Which IMO means we are atleast three years away from being in the upper third of the league.  That really is amazing considering the history Illinois has had.  If Groce is playing the best players we have that is scary.  I would have thought Devon Langford and Mike Shaw would be better the Myke Henry, but I guess not.  Those two will be juniors before the record any minutes of value.

This team is a mish-mash of slashers, shooters and one on one pickup game players.  It is not a team.  That starts at the top.  Not at the bottom.  This group of seniors needs to buy what Groce is selling.  Otherwise expect more losses at home and more angry fans.  They have the slightest of chances to turn it around, but they have painted themselves into a corner.  It is now time to see if they fight there way out or fade into the wall.

Go Illini!

Thanks for listening.