March Blah-ness

The NCAA Tournament has started.  For the first time in many, many years, I didn’t even fill out a bracket.  Just could not get into it this year.  Is this the inevitable consequence of your team(s) being irrelevant in March multiple consecutive years?  As my son would say, ‘probably.’

There’s also a lot of other stuff going on – soccer season starting up for the kids, school events one after the other, lots of house and yard work…  So many excuses.  If the Fighting Illini were in – as a projected seed or even a marginal lower tier team, I’d be plotting their upsets and inevitable second weekend appearance, scouring the matchups, figuring out who will advance.  Instead, Illinois fans are treated to the third arrest of a player within about three weeks.  Not good, Coach, not good at all…

So I guess it’s time to root, root, root for the underdog, look for some hardworking teams to upset the blue bloods, and scout for coaches on the upswing.  Games will still be on.  We’ll still watch the second weekend and the Final Four closely.  Maybe next year.

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Thomas Out

University of Illinois alums and fans were pretty sure Mike Thomas would be gone once the football report was released.  Many of us were surprised that the University decided to to it so quickly.  Opinions vary on the why and what:  the venerable one opines that 1) Beckman and Groce haven’t won enough, 2) Important alums are mad about the State Farm Center re-seating process, and 3) the medical issues with Beckman were a big problem.  Robert at Illiniboard goes to the medical issue, as does veteran scribe Mark Tupper.  Listening to the fellas on the Tay and Jay Show yesterday, they had much the same response.

If you look at the report, it certainly paints Beckman as a bumbler and a boob at best, and a bit of a bully when it came to injuries.  Some of us had thought in those terms on the former points; as far as the injuries – there are a lot of coaches out there who will be looking at the report closely and updating their policies as a result.  It seems like Thomas did what he could once he had awareness of the issue, but in Illinois (land of lawsuits), you have to watch your back with the whole culpable deniability.  I thought Thomas was making progress on many fronts, but when you’re football coach hire turns south and your basketball coach hire is treading water, it’s time to polish up the resume.  Thomas will still be making a lot of money out of this situation, and the real question is what next?

As the Internets told us this week, I is for Interim.  We are now without a permanent chancellor, AD, and head football coach.  The President is new.  Leadership at U of I needs to step in some capacity.  Could we get lucky?  Could we show some courage?  Could we make some hires who can make a difference and set us on a different, better path?  With the state of the state’s finances and political realities, such hires are more difficult than ever.  I’m hoping for sheer luck this time around.

March Malaise

I don’t have a bracket this year.  Just don’t have the inclination.  This is what those awful final three games of the Illini season have done.  No tourney analysis, no matchups that can’t be missed.  Bah.

chief_logo_upsideHow does this happen?  A question for the coaching staff and all fellow suffering Illini.  How do we wake up today and it’s been 10 years since our last deep tourney run.  How do you not show up for half the game against Purdue and the entire game against Michigan, when all you need is one win to get in?  And as far as that NIT game – let’s all do ourselves a favor and try to forget that one…

We’ve known for some time this team was flawed, capable of bad stretches, offensively challenged at times.  But this ending collapse revealed flaws in the whole system – the recruiting, the offensive and defensive systems, the bench coaching…  And now we’re all asking ourselves if John Groce can be the guy.  Because nearly everyone wants him to be the guy:  he works hard, he says the right things, he’s a Midwest and Big 10 type of coach…  Really don’t want to head into this off-season with these kinds of questions about him. Continue reading

Storms and Late Starts

It’s been many, many years since we failed to make it to at least one Illini basketball game during the season.  For me, this  streak very likely goes back decades to when I was in high school.  Yes, we’re those kind of fans…  So when I looked at the calendar today and saw that tonight’s final home game against Nebraska begins at 9:00, and realizing that if I take the kids to this game they wouldn’t get home until 1:00 or so, and knowing that we have our own basketball practice tonight along with the new PARCC standardized tests at school this week, well, looks like no Illinois hoops for us this year.

I suppose I could go myself, maybe try to talk my brother into going with me.  Get home late and be tired tomorrow.  But with his new mini-Rube at the house this probably isn’t an option.  It’s a shame because I really have a lot of respect for our team’s seniors – especially Nnnanna Egwu and Ray Rice – and would like to cheer for them in person one last time. Continue reading

Blame the Refs!

This weekend, Illini fans were treated to one of the strangest, most head-scratching, end-of-the-game referee decisions we have seen.  It was a potential game changer with about 30 seconds to go, and because of the thin margins for teams like Illinois and Michigan State, it was a potential season changer as well.  Hard to give this call justice, but here it is.

Your basic hard screen-out on a bonus free throw…  What you don’t see in that little clip (or actually you start to see it) is the Spartan player looks over to be sure the ref is watching, then doubles over in agony as if he’s been groin-smacked.  Maybe he was…  Sure doesn’t look like it.  Anyway, the refs called nothing, so they went to the video screen for a replay and assessed a technical foul – fouling out Jaylon Tate, giving the Spartans two more free throws and the ball, and sending the Illini Nation into a collective rage.  Fortunately the Spartans only made one FT, gave up the ball, and Illinois won in the end.  But speaking to my brother and others, we can’t remember ever seeing such a poor decision, so clearly influenced by the home crowd and the reputation of the coach (Tom Izzo, Dean of Big 10 hoops coaches).  This call resulted in a twitter slap-fight between ESPN talking head Dan Dakich and the mayor of Champaign, Don Gerard (no vote-trolling there). Continue reading

Shifting to Cover

Victory Badge

We haven’t had much analysis on Illini Hoops of late – mostly because the results have been disappointing and hard to figure.  When they play better on offense, they can’t seem to sustain their defense.  The shooting is off.  Then Rayvonte Rice broke his hand this week on the heels of a two-game winning streak…

And Illinois responded like they needed to – backs against the wall and a home win against a Top 10 Maryland team.  It was a really nice performance.  Good to see the coaching staff mix up the rotations and the defenses to come up with a plan.  Good to see guys Like Hill, Egwu, and especially Jaylon Tate step up. Continue reading

D Needs Work

Illinois’ loss to Villanova  Tuesday night was a lost opportunity on the big stage.  Just like last week’s game against Miami, this was a chance to beat play a highly ranked team and show something.  The Illini did show something – fighting back from a double digit deficit, playing some good basketball…  But then, once they tied the game at around the 8-minute mark, Illinois proceeded to let Villanova score the next five possession and go 8 for 9 to close it out.  Must…   Defend…  Better….

Say one thing for the offense:  our boys took it inside this time.  Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill went at them.  But the stat of the game:  Rice with no free throws.  And he was hammered multiple times.  Just don’t know how the refs let that happen…

At one point the cameras focused on Jay Wright working the officials hard, and the ESPN guys talked about the ‘strange relationship’ between refs and coaches.  Next play- tic-tack reach-in on Egwu.  Very next play, junk call on Egwu under the basket.  And meanwhile Rice and Hill getting hammered…

Continue reading