The Brick Coda

Coach Groce applauds an assist

Illinois finished the basketball season with a one point loss at Clemson on Sunday.  It was a painful gain to watch:  open shots, plenty of chances, but the ball just would not go in.  14% from three and 37.5% from the field doesn’t get you many wins.  It was the type of offensive performance we’ve grown accustomed to this year.

If you look at the gross stats on ESPN, you’ll see the Illini ranked in the bottom quarter of all Division I schools for points per game (64.6 points, ranked 311).  There are a few good teams that score that little, a very few, but the remaining teams in the NCAA Tourney all score more.  Illinois shot 40.9% from the field (320th) and 31.9% from three (293rd), still in the bottom quarter to bottom third of all teams.  In assists, we were 10.1 per game, good for 330th, which is bottom 10%.  There are lots of other statistics that measure tempo, offensive efficiency per possession, etc., but bottom line, this was a bad offensive team.  Hopefully we won’t see worse offense in many years to come.

The real question:  how did this team actually manage to win 20 games and make it to the post-season?  Defense, obviously, and grit and toughness.  When Nike unveils their rebrand concept soon, they damned well better place ‘FIGHTING’ above the ‘ILLINI’ on the basketball jerseys.  And yes, this toughness and sound defense can keep you in a lot of games, even allow you to steal a few.  You can build an identity around ‘Fighting’.  This last game against Clemson, for example:  Clemson shot close to 50% and out-rebounded Illinois, and yet we were one better possession the final minute away from stealing that game at the end.

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7, 31, and 10.4

7, 31, and 10.4…  7 of course being the current Illini hoops losing streak, the worst in years.  Last night the Orange and Blue got down big to loathsome Iowa – 21 down in fact in the first half.  Texted my brother that they looked football-team bad.  Now that’s saying something…  People where booing in the Hall State Farm Center, which not only ticked off Coach Groce (and yours truly), it seemed to trigger something.

chief_logo_upsideIllinois started playing hard and making some shots, and they roared back.  Went to halftime only down four.  The Illini actually took the lead and built it to five in the second half, but then Iowa countered. And the emotional toll of such a big comeback as well as the now familiar lack of execution in the final 3-4 minutes yielded another defeat.   There were plays to be made at the end, and Illinois couldn’t make them.  Egwu couldn’t quite catch the ball on an in-bounds right in front of the basket (would’ve been a dunk).  Abrams’ contact drawing-drives drew no fouls, while on the other end Marble’s drives (even with no contact) got the whistle.  Classic Big 10 Refs.  Jon Ekey airmailed an open three (he was cramping up from too many minutes).  And down we go.  Again. Continue reading

Worth Braggin’

You can look at the box scores, you can read the game summary.  It ends up as a very important win for the Fighting Illini.  The annual Braggin’ Rights border battle against Missouri in St. Louis rarely fails to live up to the hype.  We watched as a family, with me trying to control myself and explain things to the kids.  The wife worked on stuff on her laptop and sent several arch looks my way when I started talking to the refs and the TV.  There was yelling and jumping at the end, when Ray nearly stole it and forced a bad three at the buzzer.  Now the holidays can begin as they should:  with Mizzou defeated and that border trophy on its way back to Champaign.

Yes, this was an important win for Illinois.  That signature non-conference victory that could be very big come March.  Beating a ranked team, and pulling it out at the end with a strong finish.  A confidence-builder, a toughness  win.

The toughness factor is what we’ll hang our hat on.  Tracy Abrams led the way there, driving, drawing fouls, and finishing.  And those two made free throws with four seconds left…  Ray Rice made plays to keep us in the game even if this wasn’t his best offensive night.  Jon Ekey with the clutch three.  Bertrand and Egwu and  the freshmen chipping in at key points.  Statistically it was very even, but the Illini seemed to get all the loose balls and tough rebounds the last eight minutes or so.  That will win you close games.

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Pentagram: Road win in Vegas

Coach em up

For the Fighting Illini basketball team, the first real test came late last night against UNLV on the road.  After beating up on some lesser opponents in Champaign, Coach Groce and Company traveled to Las Vegas in preparation for a December stretch that’s looking much tougher.

Illinois went down by 10 at halftime and looked pretty bad the final four minutes of the first half.  We knew the halftime adjustments were coming, though, and Coach Groce indeed had them looking better in the second.  It’s such novel idea to come out of halftime knowing your team will shift and change to exploit identified weaknesses…  We still aren’t used to it.

The Illini out-toughed and out executed UNLV in the second, with good performances by Ray Rice, Nnanna Egwu, and Jaylon Tate.  Final score 61-59, thanks to switching the defenses, running the right set plays in given situations, and hitting some clutch shots towards the end  This is an early season belief-win that will surely help the RPI come March.

Five points in your first road-win pentagram…

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Rough Weekend for I-L-L

chief_logo_upsideFor the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school.  It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean.  Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again.  The less said about that the better.  As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.

Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town.  Why would we choose that game as our family outing?  Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas.  The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State.  And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.

Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV.  It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service).  Why was this game not on local TV?  People care about watching two downstate schools play?  When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels.  Why, Mike Thomas?  And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet.  Not cool.  To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station.  What?  No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55?  When did this happen.

Silver linings, though.  Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked.  Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading

Hope and Fools

Illinois’ 10 point loss to Washington in Soldier Field this past Saturday provided more cause for optimism to faithful Illini.  Yeah, that’s a loaded statement.  But bear with me:  Before the season started, I would have predicted a multiple touchdown loss, a possible blowout.  And while the Huskies dominated the game and exploited Illinois’ numerous deficiencies, the game was competitive in the 4th quarter.

Special teams – especially the return game – seems much better.  The Illini again won the turnovers battle.  The Cubit offense kept Washington off-guard and hit some big plays.  These glimpses of competence and good football have us looking forward to football on Saturdays despite the recent track record.

If you look at the schedule you see three games in which the Illini will be heavily out-manned as they were against UW – Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.  Of those three, the Buckeyes are the one legit power.  But the remaining schedule, when taking into account the first weeks of the season, provide some opportunities.  The Big 10 looks pretty meh again.  The Illinois offense can score.  Our optimism, for the moment, has been rekindled.

Q’s for the Weekend

Beemsville is all sports all the time this weekend.  And like any good self-promoting neo-sports/entertainment provider of content, we’re exploiting the interns to come up with new-ish ways to deliver our content.  They give us…  The weekend’s Top 5 questions:

  1. Can my son’s soccer team build on last weekend’s win and their newfound abilities to the pass the ball on occasion?  If they continue to remember their positions and responsibilities and don’t wilt in the heat, we like our chances.  However, I caught a look at the size of some of the other teams and they look to have a couple of over-age players…
  2. Can my daughter’s soccer team win against better competition?  They host their home tournament here in Springfield but have moved into a higher division.  Last tournament out the girls played very well after their first game and probably should have won a trophy if not for a slow start.
  3. Will Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Soccer Team continue their improbable 12-game winning streak with a World Cup Qualifier win in Costa Rica (tonight, 9:00 CST)?   Jozy Altidore is questionable to play and the right back position, which the Ticos will look to exploit, is a potential problem.  Also, we’ve never gotten a result in Costa Rica during qualifying.  But Landon is in form, and the team has really come together this summer… Continue reading