Loren Tate: Postseason run doesn't guarantee success
NIT or CBI, there are no drawbacks to the Illini playing additional basketball games.
Bring ’em on. The more the merrier. It’s always advantageous to finish the season in an upbeat manner ... because, as a former coach once noted, you want the fans to chew on positives (and not you) for the next six months.
But, in reality, the ending of one season usually has little impact on the next. I wouldn’t call it inconsequential exactly, but as one example: Iowa won four NIT games last year before falling in the finale to Baylor (not to mention 10 games in Europe), yet neither Iowa nor Baylor is jumping up and down about this season.
The 2011 Illini whacked UNLV 73-62 in the NCAA tourney before losing to Kansas and didn’t go anywhere in 2012.
That team fell deep into the doldrums, losing 12 of its last 14. Yet even after Meyers Leonard turned pro, John Groce’s first UI squad defeated USC, Butler, Georgia Tech and Gonzaga in a 12-0 start in 2013.
After a midseason slump, the Illini closed last season on the upswing. But it isn’t clear that there was much carryover. Too many solid players graduated.
If this UI team receives a postseason bid, five members of next season’s squad won’t be available. Furthermore, the importance of winning will influence Groce to sub in his customary manner, which means that several of the freshmen will receive the same minimal minutes they usually get.
But, yes, it’s good to play more games. It is, after all, a 12-month business.
NOTE: Both of Groce’s incoming recruits ended on a sour note, Centennial’s Michael Finke scoring a sub-par nine points in Friday’s regional loss to Central, and White Station’s Leron Black getting six and 10 points in season-ending losses to Hamilton and Arlington in the Tennessee tournament. With Plainfield East and Aaron Jordan falling to Geneva on Wednesday, the only future Illini still alive is 6-foot-7 junior D.J. Williams, who cashed 18 in Simeon’s 47-45 defeat of Stagg. That sets up Wednesday’s sectional showdown against heavily favored Whitney Young at Marist.
Warming to the task
Has spring sprung? March Madness is in the air. We get an extra hour of early-evening sunlight this weekend. It’s supposed to hit 60 degrees Monday.
Hallelujah! It’s been a chilling winter. And Illini basketball teams and wrestlers didn’t exactly warm us up.
But if we can clear away the clouds, Illini spring sports appear highly promising. Dan Hartleb can lean on quality pitching, and Terri Sullivan has some hitters. Brad Dancer has his tennis team on the rise. And while we may not see them, both track teams have individual Big Ten champs, and Mike Small’s golf operation is the envy of the Midwest.
A few winners would be welcome around here.
Issues of the day
NBA trades are happening, bringing up a controversial question: Is it appropriate to give up victories now in order to build for the future?
The answer, of course, is “yes.” Everybody does it. It might be a GM clearing cap space, or trading a star (Luol Deng) to drop below the luxury tax line ... or simply weakening a lineup in hopes of moving higher in the draft.
That’s how the pros go about it. But there are no advantages to losing at the college level. The only way to acquire players is to attract them. Taking transfers might not be a long-term solution, but you’ve seen Groce and Tim Beckman favor that approach in an effort to make the team attractive for annual recruiting showdowns. It’s a tough way to go.
On that subject, Beckman has roughly 16 juniors visiting this weekend. The Illini have been extremely active in their attempts to be first at the doorstep. Running backs and linemen are first priority.
— News flash! Johnny Manziel won’t be taken No. 1 in the NFL draft, and he won’t be the next Russell Wilson.
And that’s not simply because an astute Ron Jaworski doubts the Texas A&M quarterback.
Houston has the No. 1 pick, and new Texans coach Bill O’Brien demonstrated at New England, and again with Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg at Penn State, that he prefers a controlled aerial game. He doesn’t want a flamboyant, unpredictable Nike salesman darting around in spontaneous bursts.
Seattle had the NFL’s best defense (14.4 points and 273 yards) and needed a conservative QB who avoided mistakes and let defense win the game. Wilson was a perfect fit for the Seahawks. Furthermore, his modest pay as a third-rounder provided the Seahawks with financial mobility to strengthen other positions.
Johnny Football isn’t likely to play on a team with that kind of talent. The Browns and Jaguars were 4-12.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.