I mean, not even 30 minutes ago I finally get caught up on LLUOI posts (you’ll see James Knight and Nate Hobbs below), and now I have to write another one. Oh no. What a drag. An athletic WR/TE type who could play Division I football or basketball says yes to Lovie. Well, if I HAVE to write it.. [Read more…]
Tough week for Illinois basketball fans. Win at home on Sunday over Ohio State, and you want to get right back at it. Instead we get a week off, go into the other Assembly Hall, and get the doors blown off us before the under-16. How many fans turned their TVs off then and there? [Read more…]
I haven’t played Pick My Post in a while. So I just put it out there on Twitter and then chose the most difficult response – fill out an Illini Football and Illini Basketball Mount Rushmore for the past 10 years. This is going to be hard. [Read more…]
This won’t be a post about Illini sports. In fact, it will cover Purdue more than it covers Illinois. I sometimes use this space to write about personal things, and this post will be another one of those. This post is being written to remember my cousin Tim. [Read more…]
The dilemma – I leave for a trip in the morning, and I have a choice between writing about the Ohio State win or writing my yearly “Ten Names You’ll Learn” column. Ten names it is. I’ll sum up the Ohio State game in one sentence: how did Malcolm inbound the ball and get all the way to the rim with 5 seconds on the shot clock? Great play.
“The path remains.” Tyler’s quote from an article a week or so ago rings true, which feels tough to believe. The Turkey week massacre saw the Illini go 0-3 with a bad loss against Winthrop, an absolute beat down by Huggie Bear, and a “no heart” loss down the stretch to FSU. That felt like an absolute death knell until the team rallied to go 3-0 against the Wolfpack, VCU, and BYU. A 10-3 non-conference put us on the expected pace, but we didn’t do ourselves any favors. An extra win against a team ranked in the top-100 would have been nice as would avoiding a bad loss against Winthrop. But we are where we are and indeed the path remains.
Elsewhere in the non-conference we learned some things about the rest of the Big Ten. There are three very good to elite teams in Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin. There are three pretty bad teams in Rutgers (played the softest non-con of all freaking time), Penn State, and Nebraska. And the remaining eight are all solid to pretty good. Four or five of the teams from that messy middle will likely make the tournament, and they’ll all have their ups and downs to be sure.
The upshot of what we’ve learned is that we only face those very good to great teams (Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin) once each. The downside is that limits our opportunities for signature wins. Given that, we probably need to roll up at least a 10-8 conference record and a win in the conference tournament to feel good on Reaping Day.
Using Kenpom’s predicted win probabilities, we have ~20% chance of a 10+ win season. Those aren’t exactly the best odds, but a lot can happen over the course of three months. Snatching a win from either of the three top teams in the conference changes things quite a bit. That would make the path to 10 wins easier AND make a 9 win conference season with a signature win potentially tournament worthy. Unfortunately, we go on the road to face Purdue and Indiana, and, while Wisconsin does come to Champaign, Bo Ryan completely owns John Groce.
So barring a win over one of Purdue, Indiana, or Wisconsin, let’s say we need 10 or more wins to make the tournament. Today that’s a 20% proposition. Not the best odds. This begs the question “what needs to happen to change that?”
It all comes down to the month of January. From the opener on Tuesday December 27th to January 31st when Bo and the Badgers come to Champaign, we play 10 games. Those ten games include our single plays with Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin, home and homes with Michigan and Maryland, visits from Ohio State and Iowa, and a trip to Happy Valley.
Here’s how those games line up:
While it would be great to snag a signature road win or triumph over Bo Ryan for the first time in years, what we really need to do is split this part of the schedule. Hot starts to conference play haven’t exactly been John Groce’s forte. He’s only gone 5-5 through the first 10 conference games once in his time with the Orange Blazer. His other records are 2-8 and a pair of 3-7 starts. Splitting those first 10 games means our chances of winning 10+ games doubles from ~20% to a touch shy of 40%. Run just under at 4-6 and our chances of 10 or more wins dips to 15%. Do worse than that and we’re crossing our fingers for a conference tournament run for the ages.
How would 5-5 on February 1st realistically look? Assume we drop games to the three at the top, and you’re left with these 7 games to go 5-2:
Anyone worried about holding serve at home and getting a win at Penn State? I certainly am. Ohio State and Michigan are the closest to tournament locks out of the Big Ten’s messy middle, and Maryland’s guard play will surely give us fits on the perimeter. Now to Robert’s point about the direction of the program, if we’re on the up and up we beat teams in our tier at home and teams on a tier below on the road. These are the games where the Illini can make that all important statement of intent that says they’re going to be in the tournament conversation to the very end.
So what’s left after that opening 10 game flurry? Here’s how the rest of the schedule breaks down:
A couple of tougher games, Iowa and Northwestern on the road, a couple easier ones, Penn State at home and at Rutgers, and then 4 more of those classic conference toss ups.
We should be in every game on this part of the schedule. Now, we haven’t looked anywhere near strong enough to feel confident in reeling off 6 or 7 wins through this stretch, but it certainly isn’t out of the question with a few good bounces of the ball. John Groce’s Illini teams have performed well over the final 8 games with the exception of last year’s injury ridden 2-6, going 5-3 twice and 4-4 once. If his teams really do improve more over the course of the conference schedule than other teams then this is the back 8 you want to have.
While there aren’t really any absolute cakewalks in the Big Ten this year, John Groce should be very happy with his schedule heading into Big Ten play. If he’s a got a better than average Big Ten squad then this is the schedule to show it on. Single plays with the 3 great teams in the conference and a demolition derby with a bunch of teams that feel really close to one another. It’s probably going to take a convincing tournament bid to keep his job, and if he’s going to do it then his team has to come together much sooner than it has in the past. Split the first ten in January, or it’s going to be a steep uphill climb.
“I’m so worried about numbers”, I said. “What if we get to Christmas and we have to get desperate and start offering every two-star on the planet because our top targets are all going elsewhere?”, I screamed. Well, it’s almost Christmas, and we keep unwrapping extremely talented presents. [Read more…]
I quit attending Braggin’ Rights in 1999 after going 0 for 5 in person. When I worked up the nerve to return in 2014, I was greeted with a buzzer beater. Then, last year, in the stands with my son, a nail biter as our 20 point lead shrunk to 3. Tonight… tonight I returned to normalcy. [Read more…]
I can’t watch the game tomorrow. Well, I could, but it would be ridiculously unfair to my wife. Here we are, in New York City, and I’ve spent the better part of two days covering a basketball team which was outscored 161-118. Tomorrow, we’re hitting the town. (And I’ll sneak a few peeks at the game on my phone.) [Read more…]
This is the first time I’ve remembered to publish the Northwestern TWTD in three years. It’s always scheduled to go up on Black Friday and I’m always doing something else. But today, I remembered! Here’s Detlef to take us back to 1989: [Read more…]