Road Win!

Feb 07, 2017

Hashtag roadkill hashtag road warriors hashtag business trip. Look, we all know what this season became, and where it's going to end up, but for now, I think I'm just going to enjoy beating the NUrds. In fact, I'm going to write this post blissfully ignorant of January. We've covered all the negatives - let's talk positive signs. And let's number them.

1. The Freshmen

Te'Jon Lucas - 11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Kipper Nichols - 9 points on 3-4 FG and 2-3 FT

I'm very susceptible to ear worms. You know - songs that get stuck in your head. The song currently stuck: Don't Stop Me Now by Queen (long story). I'm sitting here typing and in my head it's this constant "don't. stop me nowwww (I'm havin' such a good time - I'm having a ball)".

And that's my general mood towards the freshmen. All I tweeted about in the first half was more Kipper, more Te'Jon. It's all I want right now. If we're going to miss our fourth straight tournament, then I need something to cling to for the future, and right now that's Kipper and Te'Jon. As many minutes as we can play them.

The keys to this win might have been 1) Te'Jon's 33 minutes, 2) Finke's big second half, and 3) Kipper's first half surge during our run. Freshman, sophomore, freshman. More please. Don't stop now.

I'm a rocket ship on my way to Mars, on a collision course, I am a satellite, out of control. (WAIT, what's this song about?)

2. A Shooting Star Leaping Through The Sky

Let's get something straight first: we won because the shots fell. We've already established that for this season: we're not going to D our way to a win, we're not going to rebound our way to a win - we'll win when the shots fall.

And in the second half, both teams put up 24 shots. Northwestern made 8, Illinois made 14, chicken dinner. If a game is tied at halftime, and one team shoots 58% percent in the second half while the other team shoots 33%, that first team is probably going to win (unless they turn it over a dozen times and give up every rebound).

But as Tyler pointed out on Twitter, one big reason our shots fell was that we took better shots. (And I think we took better shots mostly because of Te'Jon running the offense.) Threes and layups - the sermon Tyler has been preaching all season.

Don't stop us now - we're having such a good time, we're shooting the ball.

3. Rotation station

Minutes tonight:

Malcolm 36
Mav 36
Te'Jon 33
JCL 22
Finke 22
Kipper 16
Tracy 16
Leron 15
Jordan 4

(Tate 0, Thorne 0, DJW 0)

Apart from my waking up the dog asking the television "why is Kipper not in?" at the start of the second half, I was fairly happy with this rotation. Te'Jon gets the keys to the offense, Mav and Malcolm are the senior mainstays, use Tracy situationally, if Finke is out-playing Leron give him all the majority of minutes, JCL gets his, Kipper gets more - I like it all.

Perhaps this is the moment this season we settle on a rotation? Perhaps we see 30+ from Te'Jon the rest of the way? Perhaps Kipper plays at least 15 minutes from here forward? We shall see.

4. FinKEY

When we went down three with 3:30 remaining, I figured that was it. Nice little fight on the road (finally), but Northwestern will get their head on straight and win running away in the final three minutes.

And then BANG a Fink3 ties it. And then the teams trade free throws, followed by a Te'Jon layup, followed by BANG a Finke steal (he gets credit for the poke-away on the tie-up) and then BANG a Finke two from the lane makes it a two possession game with a minute to go.

Yes, we need to give Malcolm a lot of credit for his 14 second-half points (specifically, his ability to get to the line) which helped us win the game. But Finke's second half, especially the three steals, were a huge part of this win. As I mentioned above, having a few freshmen and sophomores put this game away is good for my basketball soul. I need some hope for the future.

So yes, if we lose to Penn State on Saturday, all of this temporary joy I feel will be gone. The fact that this was only our 14th win of the season is not lost on me. Big picture, I understand that this means very little.

But I really needed this. I needed to do that loud clap thing I do when I determine that the game is officially salted away. I needed to fist pump when the Fink3 fell. I needed to get up off the couch during Kipper's first half run. Even if this is only temporary, I needed the feeling of a solid road win.

Especially over the NUrds.


Bear8287 on February 07 @ 10:34 PM CST

Hey, just enjoy it.

  1. Illini snap record tying 9 game B1G road losing streak.

  2. The indignity of possibly losing twice to Northwestern this season is off of the table.

  3. Along with the VCU win, the Illini have likely now beaten 2 NCAA tourney bound teams, and

  4. This may mean that the last regular season game against Rutgers in Piscataway won't be to determine who'll finish last in the B1G this season.

All things to be grateful for. :-)

Road Trip!

Bear8287 on February 07 @ 10:38 PM CST

Spots 10, 11, 12, 13 & 14 in the B1G:

  • Minnesota 4-6 16-7
  • Ohio State 4-7 14-10
  • Nebraska 4-7 10-13
  • Illinois 4-8 14-11
  • Rutgers 2-9 13-11

We've got a game and a half on Rutgers now!

thumpasaurus on February 08 @ 12:50 AM CST

At times, I didn't even recognize this offense.

The passing and the off-ball movement and the open shots...I felt like I was watching a totally different team.

There was one possession that was kind of in transition that just went pass-pass-pass-Fink3 wide open. WHAT?! Where has this been all year?


Sweetchuck13 on February 08 @ 04:58 AM CST

I agree - the offense looked much crisper than in the past, and our shot selection was quite a bit better. We still won because the shots fell, but I felt like we were actually getting some decent shots, as opposed to usually when we take shots the Defense would give us any day of the week.

Finke's shot selection in particular is impressive. He's clearly one of the best shooters on the team, yet he rarely forces a long jumper or bad shot if it's not there. He's shooting 50% on the season and 42% from 3. In conference play, he's stepped it up further, with 56% overall and 53% (!) from 3 (16-30). In comparison, Abrams is 4-33, Hill is 12-54, and JCL is 23-64 from 3.

He's certainly got his weaknesses on defense and he's not a great rebounder, but his offensive intelligence, understanding of spacing, and ability to get open (especially off the pick-and-pop plays) is impressive, and should definitely be something to build around next year along with Lucas, Kipper, and Black.

Robert on February 08 @ 05:54 AM CST

Yeah, this feels like football season all over again. Came into the year talking about the seniors, everything fell apart quickly, the hope in the second half of the season all comes from the freshmen and sophomores playing so well (supplanting many of the seniors).

Groundhogday on February 08 @ 10:57 AM CST

The big difference is that we kind of expected the football staff to go young when the team struggled, and build for the future. But in basketball, Groce is fighting to save his career - and yet here we are finally improving with the seniors on the bench and freshmen playing major minutes.

Groundhogday on February 09 @ 03:39 PM CST

FWIW Finke has good offensive rebounding numbers, adjusted per 40 min. The key for Finke is to add 15 lbs of muscle and enough toughness to defend the interior and block out effectively on the defensive glass.

mmyers74 on February 08 @ 05:39 AM CST

Agree, agree, agree.

I DO believe that Te'Jon needs to come up with a Plan B (or E) for the drive down the lane, beyond the basket, leaping out of bounds... and then hoping he has someone to throw to, maneuver. Twice he did the "back up the lane" pass, with no umph... 2or3x the approach worked. 2or3x it was a pass and that was it... and a few times it was a turnover. Too low of a success % to do 10x a game.

Personally, I wish he would incorporate the Steve Nash, dribble through... where at the end of the lane drive, he may not pass it at all, rather just keep possession by never picking up the dribble. He's got the skill for it, and it would be an asset down the line. Nash would often times just end up with open 8 footers as people would back away, defending the pass.

Love the trio (TJL, Kipper, Fink3). Great to see.

Groundhogday on February 08 @ 07:33 AM CST

Loved the play from Lucas and Kipper (sounds like an animated TV show), and from Finke in spots. Once piece I'd like to add to this mix is Leron Black. He is bigger than Kipper, a much better defender than Finke, has a nice jumper and should be a junk yard dog. What's up with Leron? We will need him to give us that tough 4 presence next year, so I'd really like to see him step up the last 6-7 games this season.

Groundhogday on February 08 @ 07:43 AM CST

NW struggled with the absence of Scottie Lindsey, and that highlighted for me the importance of having longer, athletic, skilled wings. With Law and Lindsey NW has two players in that category and we have none. Maybe Kipper can develop into that kind of player, but right now he is more of a 3/4 combo. Maybe Mark Smith? This needs to be a high recruiting priority for our next coaching staff.

orangejulius on February 09 @ 08:31 AM CST

Isn't it interesting, Groundhog Day, how the absence of a key player, Kendrick Nunn cough cough, can affect a team. All of a sudden, Coach Collins doesn't look like a genius.

Groundhogday on February 09 @ 09:03 AM CST

Do you realize that the top NW recruits for the 2015 and 2016 classes are injured and out for the season (Rapolas Ivanauskas and Aaron Falzon)? Their best rebounder missed 8 games due to injury (Dererk Pardon)? So yes, Collins has dealt with injury problems. But when your leading scorer (that would be Hill, not Nunn for Illinois) goes down midseason with little time to adjust, it does make a difference. And yet they still played a more experienced and deeper Illinois team right to the wire. Hmmm...

Bear8287 on February 10 @ 08:17 AM CST

So, even with all the injuries Northwestern is still a likely tourney team and yet when Groce has to weather a couple of injuries (to 5th year players yet) and the team totally tanks, we get "unevaluateable".

So OJ, how do you explain Bo Ryan never finishing below 4th in the B1G? Must have been all of that talent he recruited eh? Look at the Kentucky team he beat in the tourney and look at the rankings of the recruits on those teams. The difference is mind boggling. Kentucky had more 5 stars in one class than Bo ever recruited in his whole career.

Coach Bum Phillips famously said the following about two coaches (Don Shula and Bear Bryant) : "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n." This was true about Bo and John Groce and it continues with Greg Gard. In 5 years, Groce is 0 for Wisconsin at Illinois.

Regardless of who coaches recruit, on average they're going to finish about where they rank with their peers. John Groce doesn't recruit at a high-enough level to significantly lift himself above his B1G peer ranking. By the way OJ, where do you rank Groce among his peers and who do you have ranked below him?

This year's team has talent to be doing far better than they are and their play at Northwestern only proves that they had no business being down 20+ in every single B1G road game this season before playing in Evanston.

There's no good excuse for this team to have played so poorly this far into the season. This team looks to finish in the conference right about where the coach ranks among his B1G coaching peers. Why would we want that type of result to continue into the future?

Groundhogday on February 11 @ 06:12 AM CST

Bottom line is 4 straight years without an NCAA tournament appearance--at a B1G school with a rich basketball tradition, in a state/region with a substantial amount of basketball talent. Groce isn't getting it done.

No more excuses. Find a coach who can succeed.

Groundhogday on February 11 @ 09:14 AM CST

So.... Anyone still want to defend Groce after a double digit home loss to a bad Penn State team?

HiggsBoson on February 11 @ 09:29 AM CST

You misspelled Gross. ;)

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