Tate: Time to change it up

Tate: Time to change it up

CHICAGO — Bring on somebody different. Make it anybody the Illini haven’t played twice. Whether it’s in San Jose, Philadelphia or someplace in between, let’s take a chance with the unfamiliar in the NCAA tournament next week.

Let’s be honest. There have been stretches against rugged, all-too-familiar Big Ten foes when John Groce’s first Illinois basketball team appeared to forget how to run an offense.

Like Friday. Indiana’s switching, basket-protecting defense took a quick bite out of the UI, sped to a 26-9 lead and breezed to an 80-64 triumph in the league’s first Big Ten tournament quarterfinal game at the United Center.

In the first 14-plus minutes, the Illini managed four field goals and a free throw. It looked hopeless. Then Brandon Paul popped his only trey, and the Illini started penetrating through cracks, drawing fouls and awakening the scoreboard. They outpointed the Hoosiers 43-34 in an impressive run that indicated what Groce’s gang is capable of.

But Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and the Hoosiers wouldn’t allow a repetition of what happened Feb. 7 in Champaign. Zeller was overwhelming as he deposited 9 of 11 shots and scored 24 points even though he didn’t attempt a field goal in the last 16 minutes. That’s when Oladipo took over with 10 late points that featured two spectacular dunks.

It was Indiana’s turn to howl — and it did — as the Hoosiers took another step toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Hoosiers too much
“Zeller is a load, a terrific player,” Groce said. “There’s a reason why he was on those preseason magazine covers. He’s a National Player of the Year candidate.

“Oladipo is as good a perimeter defender as we’ve faced all year. He reads things. He takes things away.”

Referring to a major shortcoming — offensive post play — Groce said: “At Ohio State, we had plays for (Greg) Oden and (Terence) Dials. Guys like that, guys like Zeller, can score. We have to develop that and add players through recruiting.

“They locked heavy on our shooters, and we missed five early crips in our ‘own the box’ area. If we make those, the halftime deficit might have been more like seven instead of 14.”

The statistics were telling. Each team hit 5 of 17 from beyond the arc. Indiana had two more free throws, 21-19. And Illinois attempted eight more fielders but made seven fewer baskets ... the result of another dismal shooting performance of 34.5 percent to Indiana’s 54 percent.

This has become the norm, Illinois shooting an unacceptable 37.7 percent in the last 10 games and edging Minnesota 51-49 on Thursday with 32.1 percent shooting.

The UI’s stay in the NCAA tournament won’t last long if that continues. But there is hope stemming from the preconference period when the Illini sizzled at 50 percent to rock Gonzaga, 48 percent to down Butler and 44.5 percent overall in a 13-1 getaway.

So here’s the good news: Illinois won’t play another Big Ten team for a while. Maybe that’ll lift the Illini out of their doldrums.

Tate’s tidbits
— From the IU standpoint: Coach Tom Crean emphasized “our strong finish in the last seven minutes,” having reminded the team that Illinois rallied to win earlier, 74-72. Illinois pulled within 60-52 Friday, Crean saying: “We learned from the one that got away from us.”

— The UI’s Thursday star, Paul, sank 11 of 12 free throws, but he and senior running mate D.J. Richardson went 4 for 23 from the field Friday. Tracy Abrams got the Illini moving after halftime but, when the Illini threatened with a surge in scoring, Indiana cracked the UI defense for high-percentage shots.

— Illinois previously had success against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, capturing five of six in a string that began with the stunning 82-66 upset by a Lon Kruger team that finished last (3-13) in the 1999 standings.

— Fans and media weren’t the only ones to second-guess Tubby Smith’s decision to withhold Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins after they drew two early fouls against Illinois on Thursday. Said Smith: “Looking back on it, I probably should have played both of them. I have faith in our guys coming off the bench, but belief in themselves is two different things.”

— Groce returned Paul to the court 47 seconds after he drew his second foul early in the Indiana game. Paul played 34 minutes.

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

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JimOATSfan wrote on March 16, 2013 at 1:03 am

4 for 23 shooting from the starting guards does not win games. 'Make your shots and move on' should be the team mantra to bring home a championship.

Go Illini

hopefulmike wrote on March 16, 2013 at 4:03 am

Some observations:

1) When driving to the basket, the Illinois players give up at the first contact or, worse yet, alter their shot to try and draw a foul. Make the damn basket and disregard the fouls!!!!

2) When will the Illini big men definitively grab a rebound. They get their hands on the ball and at least half the time it is taken away.

3) There is no movement on offense without the ball. We need as many screens away from the ball as on the ball.

4) The whole team needs practice on using the glass effectively. It is much more forgiving than attacking the basket directly. That alone was a 10-15 point advantage for Indiana.

oandb wrote on March 16, 2013 at 8:03 am

Love Abrams but he needs to be a team player. One on five all the time which slows the offense. His turnovers are killers. Get Paul shots. DJ needs to wake up.

DaisyJ wrote on March 16, 2013 at 8:03 am

Can we just go to our signature shot , the three ball the whole game. Can we, that is what we fans pay for, to watch the set shot three ball and then come home and get to say, I love the three ball, Daisy J is stupid,  keep shooting the three ball, lots  of fun, just back up and shoot, thats it, go away from the basket and shoot my three

1 illinifan wrote on March 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

You have got to love DaisyJ, shy, reserved and never get an opinion from her! She apparently loves the 3 shot. Certainly understand her frustration, however the time when the 3 did not matter is long gone from today’s game. Our team is proof of that, look at the games we won with it against top tier teams, without it we would of never have won those games. True, we have relied on it way too much in some games but we have to remember this team is limited and incredibly fragile mentally. Also Groce gives the team a lot of room to play, they are not used to that and while that will be awesome in the future, right now they are still learning. The players have to think more on the court, it is an incredible system with the right players. The ones Groce inherited were just too confined the past few years, gigantic difference in style of play. Our success came when there were zero expectations and with new found freedom, they thrived even. When they had those huge Big Ten expectations thrust on them, they crumbled, for awhile. Am hoping they get back to the zero expectations mentality for the NCAA tournament and make a good run. To be honest because of the mental roller coaster really did not expect them to make it this far, kudos to Groce and staff.


They have exceeded my expectations for this season as frustrating and awesome as it is. I think DaisyJ will be happier with next season, more rounded ball playing, as am sure the rest of us will be as well, even with the new players learning the system.

DaisyJ wrote on March 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

While I like the new kids we have coming, I have to tell you I am not sold on Groce's style of free ball and no dicipline. This free lance no pass offense is horrible, and if I were a big man I would tell them to go find some other guinea pig to pick for guards that hog the the ball, cannoot pass, are selfish, cannot shoot and run around wild taking bad shots. We even have the announcers calling it like it is,,BAD FORCED SHOTS...


Look, anyone ever think of this. Lets have guards pick for each other, forwards or centers go under the basket instead of running to pick like mindless ninja's that have no hands and that is why they never shoot the ball.

Street ball by these guys is allowed by Groce, and when you question him on it he gets the backing of people that want access to him so they do not critisize him or question him.

For those of you that think because we made some three's in a win that this was progress well

you are seening why that will never be something to build your program around. We made 2 baskets in the first 11 min. because the guards were dribbling like fools and the big men running around trying to pick instead of setting up down low. Do coaches today go recruity a big scoring high school center or forward and is this what they tell them, "hey kid, you will start right away, and all I want you to do is pick out front form my guards" and they jump up and say, where do I sign, coach, that looks like fun...that is why I have worked on my 15 footer all these years and got my average up to 20 per game, so I can come to Illinois and PICK FOR A GUARD. Geeze, what is everyone drinking.


Remember this, if you can learn to do it the wrong way, you can learn to do it the right way.


Andy wrote on March 17, 2013 at 10:03 am

Daisy J i agree with you that we take forced shots at times, but you suggest that we should have guards pick for each other out front and our bigs and forewards stay low? I dont know how that would work it would be to easy for defenders to switch on the ball and we would never have anyone open. First and for most we need a true point guard and big man to run the offense through, especially a point guard who looks down low. Nanna is going to bring energy every game but he is not a big center for our conference and as far as a point guard i think  Tracy will work hard in the off season and better his game. This offense that Groce runs will be more succesful when we have a true point guard and a center, i think that is why he has put so much time in trying to recruit both. I also get frustrated and criticize our offense when we are not making shots but when are shots are falling everyone is happy. I think brighter days are ahead but as far as this season went, im not sure anyone expected it to be this good. For a first year coach and staff to turn this program around in one season of working with these players and the players buying into what there selling them, i think its been great! We are finally back in the NCAA tournament, and we have won 7 of out last 11 games. To win 22 games so far this year im sold!!

DaisyJ wrote on March 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Well, a guard picking for a guard would give the advantage to the offense as the defense does not know which way the guy with the ball is going. Look, we never try it do we, nor do we ever pass to the wing and have a guy cut to the middle for a pass. NEVER>  Why is this, we have a team that cannot do anything but dribble the ball and tell their bigs to come away from the basket for a num numbing pick for nothing. The 4A high school girls teams pass better than the Illini numskulls. Dribble drive and bad shots, and yes, for all of you, the three is a bad shot are all we do. Think about it.

We would win more if we took no 3 point shots, You only maybe make 30% anyway, so 45% 2 point shooting is better than any three balls. And , you get more rebounding, more fouls on the other team, better percentage shots, better passing, better everything, but the three ball has ruined the game. No one is skilled at anything anymore.


The starters could be better now if Groce would not allow the selfish play. Sit them for a full half and guess what, the wake up call will get them alerted. Do you think a person that has a wide open three shot, one that there is no one within 17 feet of him is the right shot. The right move is to ignore the three, drive a little closer where the percentage goes way up, and see what happens, like maybe you just drive all the way, or drive and dish , or shoot a 75% make shot.

Duh, wake up, think for your self. Do you realize that Jay Bilas said the other day the last 10 yrs that scoring is down in basketball. Why, well we can start with bad shots and lack of skill player

25 plus yrs ago without the three ball you would have 15 to 20 players score 24 or more average per game in D1, now, you will be lucky to have 3. Why, they quit shooting better shots, started shooting the three ball and dumbed down the game in the process. The NCAA is concerned, because we have a shot clock and no increase in scoring. Tell me, what is BP signature move, or Abrams or Griffey, with Egwu it is a turnaround, but heck he spends his time picking endlessly. And the three ball is not a signature move. Answer, they have none..


1 illinifan wrote on March 18, 2013 at 10:03 am

Daisy, you cannot judge his system just off of this season alone, for a lot of reasons. First he had to adapt his style to existing players, so, this is not his system, it is an adaptation of it. And while at times it looks like street ball, which is just the players straying from the system. In a year or two you will rethink your position on this I assure you. It just looks ugly now.


You make some good points, but have to remember that even the successful long time coaches say that players were much, much better several years ago than they are now. They do not stay in College long enough to have high scoring (better teams), come with very little fundamentals along with skills sets. So comparing good players from then with just average at best now is not the kids fault or fair. The system allows the easy pass thru of players with one or two years playing time, not 4 as they need. When they do leave early, most do not do well or struggle for a good period of time. Now, there are exceptions to the rule, but now, all kids think they are the exception to the rule. A beautiful example of this is Kentucky, the one and done team, supposedly. Will they even get the NIT championship? Yes, there can be arguments about all of this or anything really. The fact is that the most successful, talented, long time coaches are saying this, not me, I for one am taking their word for it since they do it for a living, quite well I might add.


Say all that to say this, Groce is not playing 100% his system right now. Near as I can tell, maybe 40%. He can only do the best he can with what he has. Is it always perfect, or all the right decisions made, no, of course not. Really do not know of anyone who does that, and hindsight is always 20/20, always. Groce is the youngest coach in the Big Ten, he is still learning as well.


Daisy he will not have the guys he recruited in until 2 years from now, yes, a few this next season. Some of Webber’s will be back next year as well, they may do well they may not. I think we should cut him some slack until he has his full group. Remember we are at the dance without Leonard, something that did not happen last year, there was no excuse for that. So we are better off already.

DaisyJ wrote on March 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm

1 Illini.,,, they are not running any system when your offense is only to just tell the big man to go pick a guard.

They can run plays, thinking otherwise is just not thinking. It is all street ball, no passing, looks like noon ball at the YMCA.


As for Groce's system, he is watching the street ball go on just like the rest of us. These guys have no dicipline and the coach is doing very little coaching. Now, defensively, when they stop trying to slag off and double, they are fine.


Leonard was an unskilled offensive big man that I never have missed.

Andy wrote on March 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Daisy....as far as your observation of "looking like noon ball at the YMCA" remember it has won us 22 games and we are in the Tournament, obviously its working! Also your opinion of Leonard, i would have loved to see him in this offense! I guarantee the ball would have passed through or been in his hands everytime down the floor..he would have thrived off this offense and coaching staff would have IMO made him a better player than what he is! The guy has a ton of ability and is in the NBA for a reason! Be patient the future is bright...

DaisyJ wrote on March 19, 2013 at 9:03 am

your right, we won 22 games, but that is because we have good athletes that still throw in garbage and play good defense. Noon ball is nothing more than one on one with picks. Go wath the last 10 games and see what I mean.