Eight Games Where We'll Learn Something

Jan 14, 2016

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We have one really difficult game remaining, in my opinion: at Maryland. We do play one other ranked team - Iowa - but they might not be ranked by the time we play then. We're done with MSU, we're done with Purdue, and we're done with Michigan. So... how many of these can we expect to win? And will we learn anything?

Here's the list. And why not - I'll toss a bone to the NERDstatters and list the KenPom rank for each team. Worth noting: our current KenPom is 97.

Nebraska #105
at Indiana #21
at Minnesota #198
Ohio State #60
Wisconsin #62
at Rutgers #278
Iowa #11
at Northwestern #48
Rutgers #278
at Wisconsin #62
Indiana #21
Minnesota #198
Maryland #15
Penn State #148

So really, besides Iowa (who will play Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue in their next five games and likely drop), there's not really a frightening opponent until the game at Maryland in March. We've already lost to #4 and #30 and beat #13, but there's a lot of double digit opponents coming up.

To establish a baseline here, we have to sweep Minnesota and Rutgers. At this point is looks like both teams are headed for 1-17 in the conference (assuming the split their games against each other). Minnesota has won only once since November and just lost to Nebraska by 25 and Northwestern by 25. Rutgers has lost five in a row, the last four by at least 20 points. So, really, injuries to Abrams Thorne and Black or no injuries, we have to sweep Rutgers and Minnesota. And just for fun, let's say we split the final two games vs. Maryland and Penn State.

That would put us at six wins (Purdue plus assuming sweep Minnesota, sweep Rutgers, beat Penn State) and four losses (Michigan, at Ohio State, at MSU, assuming at Maryland). Take all of that out and the rest of the season comes down to these games:

Nebraska #105
at Indiana #21
Ohio State #60
Wisconsin #62
Iowa #11
at Northwestern #48
at Wisconsin #62
Indiana #21

Even with all the injuries, I think we can learn a lot by studying those eight games. We're not going to win at Maryland (unless both Thorne and Black return and we get lucky). We're not going to lose at home to Rutgers (nobody is - they're horrendously awful). So if we toss out those "nothing" games (see last week's MSU game without Nunn, Abrams, Thorne, and Black if you want my thoughts on "nothing" games) and we toss out the "everyone will beat Rutgers this year" games, we're down to eight games where we might learn something.

Yes, we're short-handed. Yes, the tournament is gone. But can we compete in these games? Can we get better as the season goes on?

OK, yes, the tournament isn't actually gone yet. With a quality win over Purdue and maybe quality wins over Iowa and Indiana looming, 12-6 probably does the trick. Go 6-2 in those eight games, sweep Minnesota and Rutgers, win at Penn State, and we're probably in. That's not going to happen, but yes, it is still possible. Get Thorne back, JCL continues to improve, we get alpha dog performances from Nunn and Hill every game and yes, it's possible.

But I think that ship has sailed. So what can we then learn from those eight games? Let's rank them from most likely to win to least likely to win.

Wisconsin (I know, right?)
Ohio State
at Northwestern
at Wisconsin
at Indiana

Well that was certainly a gross ending. If I'm looking at those games and seeing something like 3-5, then that means a loss to Iowa, a loss at Northwestern, and swept by Indiana. Yuck.

Still, this is where the Purdue win has turned things around for me. After the debacle at Michigan State we were discussing whether this would be 1999 with three Big Ten wins. Now, looking at how bad some of these teams have been so far, I'm thinking we might finish... 9-9?

Is that really what I'm landing on here? I think it is. Nine wins: Purdue (1), sweep Minnesota (2 & 3), sweep Rutgers (4 & 5), Nebraska (6), Wisconsin (7), Ohio State (8), at Penn State (9). Yep, that lands me on nine wins. Nowhere near the tournament, probably not even in the NIT (with a first round BTT loss our record would be 17-15 and I think that's not likely to make the NIT).

What am I getting at here? Not sure. Mostly, I wanted to look for games where we're learn something about this team. Things we can build on for next season. And I think I found eight games where we'll learn a lot. Five at home, three on the road, none of the opponents are overwhelmingly good like MSU or Maryland, none of the opponents shockingly bad like Minnesota and Rutgers.

Eight games against our supposed peers in the conference. We need to prove we can compete.


AHSIllini32 on January 14, 2016 @ 02:50 PM

We get to 12 wins and we're in no doubt. We get to 11 with what would be potentially 6 or 7 top 100 wins and I bet we're in too. We (currently) have one bad loss and that in Springfield without nunn and black.

The tournament isn't as out of reach as people think.

It's so hard for me to predict what might happen because of the uncertainty surrounding black and more importantly Thorne. If Thorne is back for the Iowa game? I think we'd be favored depending on how the games before that shake out of course. But what happens with those two in terms of timelines of return is so important regarding win/loss predictions for me.

jdl on January 14, 2016 @ 07:04 PM

Minor nit, until Black comes back, his absence won't influence the committee. However, Nunn being out should be enough by itself for the UNF game.

NC_OrangeKrush on January 14, 2016 @ 05:34 PM

A lot of optimism after 1 game where they played amazing and defended the whole time while making all their shots. Doing that 10-11 more times, well count me in the crowd of needing more good film to say that basis their body of work to date.

We know it is possible, and I certainly hope so..... but I will wait to see some consistency.

AHSIllini32 on January 14, 2016 @ 06:17 PM

It's not like we played out of minds here. We played a good game around a great game plan. It seems the youngsters are improving, as well. No one is suggesting this means we have things figured out but it certainly seems like we're starting to especially when you consider how the OSU game went.

AHSIllini32 on January 14, 2016 @ 06:18 PM

That said, yes we need to continue to see growth in terms of consistency. I just really hope big mike comes back soon.

Groundhogday on January 14, 2016 @ 08:09 PM

Actually, we did more or less play out of our minds. And PU didn't play well. It was the perfect storm. Given the lack of depth, it will be very hard to maintain that effort consistently. The key will be to play smart consistently, play fundamentally sound defense consistently, move the ball consistently, take good shots consistently, and keep up solid if not extraordinary effort.

AHSIllini32 on January 15, 2016 @ 12:26 AM

Purdue didn't play well because our defense was so good. Offensively we drove and got the good shots you speak of. Consistency is always the key.

Joe Edge on January 14, 2016 @ 10:43 PM

They shot at the highest percentage of ANYTIME during the Groce era....

jdl on January 14, 2016 @ 07:07 PM

Taking this defense to Bloomington is pretty frightening to me.

Groundhogday on January 14, 2016 @ 08:25 PM

9-9 in the league this year might be equivalent to 3 wins in 1998-99. The league is that bad this year and was that good in 1998-99 (when a 0.500 league record would have easily gotten us into the NCAA tournament).

In terms of particular matchups, I don't like our chances again Wisconsin. Groce has yet to beat Wisconsin in five games, and in all but one we were blown out. They are 9-9 but with 5 losses by 3 points or less. Obviously Wisconsin is down, but there is something about the Bo Ryan system that makes them a bad matchup for Groce.

AHSIllini32 on January 15, 2016 @ 12:27 AM

This is such a crock. Why the hell does it matter what it equates to in 98-99? This point is irrelevant in this thread and there's zero way to prove it. Maybe we should just worry about what 9 wins means to this injury-riddled team?

iluvrt on January 14, 2016 @ 11:02 PM

Lose to Nebraska and the whole analysis goes out the window. One game at a time for me.

NC_OrangeKrush on January 15, 2016 @ 12:52 AM

I agree

Groundhogday on January 16, 2016 @ 10:28 PM

How prescient. :(

Joe Edge on January 15, 2016 @ 05:07 AM

Iowa just took MSU apart this evening in East Lansing.... I don't think we'll win against Iowa...

Illinimac68 on January 15, 2016 @ 12:43 PM

Yeah, Iowa beat MSU like a rented stepchild, or is it a red-headed mule?

PapaDels4me on January 15, 2016 @ 03:48 PM

Izzo makes such whiny, anguished faces when he loses like last night. It was totally worth it. Enjoyed the Squawk-eyes for a few minutes, but now in the morning, I dislike them again.

Lou-a-villini on January 15, 2016 @ 05:07 PM

If we win the games we're supposed to win and lose the games we're supposed to lose, I'm sure what we actually learn.

illiniranger on January 16, 2016 @ 12:40 AM

There's an old saying in golf. You don't judge a player by his best shot, you judge him by his worst shot.

NJJ87 on January 16, 2016 @ 09:36 PM

We learned that Groce will continue to achieve firsts, like the first time Illinois has lost to Nebraska in Champaign since 1921. He has turned Illinois into a non-entity in college hoops. They can't finish getting rid of the rest of Mike Thomas' mistakes soon enough.

Groundhogday on January 16, 2016 @ 10:31 PM

I'm been one of those convinced that Groce has to get another year due to all the injuries. Any more of this kind of play and I'm going to change my mind.

Guess what: UNL doesn't have much size, they are playing freshmen more than us, and we still couldn't beat them at our place with 6 days of rest. And to add insult to injury two of their freshmen that we didn't think were good enough to play for Illinois looked pretty good.

Joe Edge on January 16, 2016 @ 10:58 PM

LOL... Well, I certainly agree... Their freshmen certainly 'outplayed' our freshmen, and their scoring duo, out-played our scoring duo... Not a good day. Although I am still confident JG WILL get one more year, minimum, whether or not he SHOULD is fast becoming the biggest question....

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