The new sheriff in town is John Groce. The Illini are a surprising 8-0, ranked, and looking a lot better than anyone had predicted. It’s a new attitude and a much different system of basketball. You can call that systems the Chuck-and-Duck.
Illinois fans will remember a similar Chuck-and-Duck system employed by the Mizzou Tigers under the always well-coifed Qunnie Snyder years ago, when Missouri was knee-deep in losing to the Orange and Blue for about 10 straight years. It was then that longtime Beemsville ally Mike G. coined the term, noting how Mizzou’s basic offense was ‘first guy across half-court goes one-on-one and chucks it. On defense Quin’s Tiggers seemed to duck out the way as often as not. Good times.
Even with such a small sample size, we can see the John Groce Chuck-and-Duck is obviously superior. On offense, yes, the Illini are indeed chucking the first available open shot – hopefully a 3-ball. No hesitation. You shoot it, force tempo, get more opportunities to shoot some more. On defense, rather than ducking out of the way, the guys have employed a more aggressive approach to high screens, doubling and pressuring, allowing a third player to duck into passing lanes for deflections and steals. This team also may duck into an occasional zone defense to confuse and startle (blasphemy! yells, Bruce Weber from somewhere in Kansas). Finally, we must admit that this team kind of ducks-and-covers when the ball goes in the post to a decent big man, hoping for the best. Yes – Chuck-and-Duck.How many times have these Illini run the shot clock down under five, only to heave a desperate shot? A serial occurrence under the previous staff… Less than three times so far, we would guess, in eight games. How many fast break point have the Groce Illini scored? How many bad shots have they forced on their opponents through tempo? How many quick game-changing runs have we seen?
College basketball is all about the runs: dynamic, exciting, fueled by sudden swings in emotion and confidence. The Chuck-and-Duck takes full advantage of these factors in ways we haven’t seen in many-a-moon. A couple of telling statistics the Illini lead the nation in three-pointers(!); the Illini are averaging 10 more points per game than at a similar phase last season; the Illini are averaging more transition points then their opponents (unheard of in recent years). Joe Bertrand says, fast break!
Of course this is November ball, which is a lot different than January-March ball. Certainly the brutalities of conference play will slow this group down. Obviously they will have a night or two when the long ball simply doesn’t fall. We will learn more next weekend, when Illinois travels to Spokane to face Gonzaga. Then there’s the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis looming.
Of great interest to us will be how Groce’s staff game plans against Wisconsin and Purdue in the B1G. These are two teams that have dictated tempo and pace and really had Illinois’ number the last few years. If the Illini want to make noise in March they need to beat mid-level conference teams like the Badgers and the Boilers (and Minnesota, who will ugly it up with the best of them).
One great aspect of the Chuck-and-Duck is this: if you’re hitting that particular night you can beat about anybody. Tempo and the risk-reward of the three-point shot have made it so. And that makes Illinois basketball a lot more fun to watch right now.