Duke gets too many calls

Back from vacation, having recovered from my college basketball illness in time to have watch most of the Sweet 16 games down to last night’s final.  And the title of the post says it well.  Duke and Coach K get too many calls.  They just do.  Yes, their guys made plays and shots when needed.  Yes, they run an offense designed to open driving lanes and draw contact.  Yes, they were lucky the Badgers were worn down from the Kentucky game.

However, if you look at last night’s championship, you’ll note a very key point in the game, with Wisconsin playing well and up by about 7-8 at around the 15 minute mark of the second half.  Suddenly, the refs find their whistles.  The same thing happened against Michigan State and Gonzaga.  Four fouls in a row.  Every bump is a foul.  A Duke player jumps into the defender it’s a foul.  Duke charges are instead blocks on the other team, etc.  On the other end, Duke hand-checked with abandon and it wasn’t called.  Maybe the refs can only take so much of Coach K’s voice and at some point they just capitulate and start making those calls.

No one was more surprised or annoyed than Wisconsin coach, Bo Ryan.  As he told reporters after the game, and as he’s said many times, “We just don’t foul.”  It’s pretty much true.  The Badger haven’t been whistled for many fouls this year or in recent years with Ryan as the coach.  It’s how they play and also testament to Bo Ryan’s own sideline presence.  So it must have been pretty disheartening to see Duke in the double-bonus with so much time left.

As an Illini fan, I truly didn’t like the thought of Wisconsin winning a title.  It just doesn’t seem right.  But as a basketball fan I was really pulling for the Badgers down the stretch.  A big part of it was the officiating.  Too much.  And that’s a shame.

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

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

Pentagram: First Look Illini

Joe B. to the rack

Illinois basketball opened the season this weekend with a pair of wins over  Alabama State (80-63) and Jacksonville State (86-62).  Both opponents were small conference foes who were never going to be competitive unless they shot lights out from three-land.  You can only take away so much from these types of games; but you better believe John Groce and company saw plenty.  And the coaching staff has the definite objective of blooding the five freshmen, building the depth and confidence, and getting prepared for the foul-out slugfests to come next month and in conference play.

We mention the foul-outs due to the new points of emphasis the NCAA has implemented to cut down hand-checking, bumping, and Duke-style phantom charges.  That sound you hear is Matt Painter grinding his teeth at Purdue.  We’re mostly in favor of this, but man are we going to see some ugly games until the players and coaches adjust.

The Illini return just three contributors from last season:  Nnanna Egwu, Joe Bertrand, and Tracy Abrams.  As has been highlighted elsewhere, the rest are transfers and freshmen.  We don’t really know the identity of this team – who will take the clutch shots or grab the vital rebounds.  We do know Coach Groce will have them playing hard and attacking the basket.  How many wins can this group gather; how will they sack up against top opponents? It’ a big question mark.  We’re hoping for post-season play (translate NIT) with a chance to sneak into the NCAA Tourney.

With that in mind, here are five early impressions of the team based on our viewing of the sometimes-choppy Internet broadcast from ESPN 3…

Continue reading

Pentagram: #1 De-Creaned

It’s been a rough 2013 for the Fighting Illini.  The promise of Nov-Dec. wins, surprising confidence and offensive execution, and a new uptempo attitude all slipped away as the Big 10 slugfest continued.  Realistically, the NCAA tournament has slipped off the radar.  Or maybe not…

Griff, the winner

One way to get over the hump is to end your home losing streak with a win over Indiana.  Who happens to be #1 this week…  On a last second shot…  After coming way back from behind in the last five minutes.

It just so happened that the Hoosiers were ranked at the top this week – a happy coincidence of scheduling and other teams losing.  They are not #1 (especially now), and certainly not the best team we’ve seen; that would be Michigan.  But we’ll take it.  If someone gets to knock the smirk of Tom Crean’s face, it might as well be Illinois!

Five points in the upset Pentagram…

Continue reading

Pentagram: First Groce Loss

hard to stop

hard to stop

It was bound to happen at some point: the first loss of the John Groce era.  81-73 to Missouri at the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.  Illinois’ couldn’t match Missouri’s frontcourt on the boards, couldn’t stop Phil Pressey off the dribble, and the guards couldn’t make shots.  Taking those factors into account, it’s surprising the Illini actually led in the final 10 minutes and were tied with about 2 minutes to play.

As I told my brother afterwards, I’d gladly trade any of the first 12 wins for a win in St. Louis, but for the fourth straight year, it’s the Tiggers who are bragging.  Mizzou is a probably a legit Top 10 team based on their size and athleticism.  And Pressey is probably the best pure penetrating-point in the college game.  So as all the sports writers have said today – no shame in losing to them.  We disagree.  It’s always bad to lose to Missouri in St. Louis.  This game matters more than most.  But the real shame of it is the lack of execution by the Orange and Blue.  And so our Pentagram analysis will focus on the whys and hows of this.

Continue reading

Chuck-and-Duck

“Go ahead and chuck it, Brandon…”

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. Continue reading