Sunday, January 20, 2013

Old Mother Hubbard...

Since the college basketball season is now a few weeks into the conference schedule we are beginning to know who are contenders and who are pretenders.  The success some teams have had early are not necessarily paying off during conference play. 

One of those teams, unfortunately, is Illinois.

It looked like this team was starting to put the fight back in Fighting Illini. 

They had started the season with a Maui Invitational championship by beating a Butler Bulldogs team that has taken out Marquette, Indiana, and now Gonzaga after last nights miracle in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

This current Illini team also beat Gonzaga in a place where they haven't surrendered many wins in coach Mark Few's tenure. 

Coach John Groce seemed to be pushing all the right buttons in what was a 12-0 start and national ranking for his first team at Illinois.  The praise was being delivered not only from fans but from national media from across the country. 

The future looked bright and all seemed well. 

The problem was a false sense of hope and not truly analyzing the current roster of players for the long haul.  Teams need toughness and togetherness to accomplish their goals.  Coach Groce was correct after winning the Maui that they weren't done improving and had better not be complacent with their early success.

This team was able to pull out a few games that I still believe last years team would have lost like Tyler Griffey's winner against Gardener-Webb, right.  The three point shots were falling then and now they are not.  Non conference games are different than conference games.  Teams in your conference know your tendencies, what you are capable of, and just aren't surprised by "new" wrinkles in your game.  

So it gets doubly tough to be successful in conference and you need to be that more mentally tough to persevere.   This current group of Illini are totally lacking in this aspect. 

This mental deficit is what has eventually killed last season's squad and is currently killing this seasons team. 

When the going gets tough the tough get going to quote Billie Ocean.  This team, though, when the going gets tough they just collapse. 

This isn't an indictment on John Groce's coaching ability it is more an indictment on Bruce Weber's recruiting ability and the players he had brought into this university. 

The current group of Illini have shown now for two seasons to be incapable of handling adversity in the toughest of situations in Big Ten play.  They came into league play and laid a stinker of a egg with an opening loss at (6-6) Purdue. 

You felt a bit better after that with a drubbing of nationally ranked Ohio State at the Assembly Hall but followed that up with losses now to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern (left).  And you looked horribly bad in the last two losses.  

John Groce can "lead" his team into battle but it ultimately comes down to the players executing the game plan.  Players are recruited by coaches and the players make coaches who they are.  

Lets call a spade a spade and say Bruce Weber left the cupboard bare.  John Groce has gone to the cupboard to get his dogs a bone and his poor little doggies had none. 

In the past three coaching changes the cupboards have not been as bare as they are for John Groce's first go around.  Lon Kruger was hired and had done such a great job building the program back up from when Lou Henson left it that he was hired by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.  He in turn left a team with great talent that Bill Self was able to build on and bring in the crop of talent that Mr. Weber was lucky enough to have fall in his lap.  Similar to Weber's current situation at Kansas State.  Frank Martin, a fearless recruiter, left him well stocked with veteran talent from last years team.  That is how it works at times.   

So lets not kid ourselves and think for a sec. that if Deron Williams (5), Dee Brown (11), Luther Head, and company weren't brought in by Bill Self that Bruce Weber would have lasted 9 years in Champaign.  There is a reason that each one of the coaches listed have players who THEY RECRUITED and are currently having their jersey hanging in the Assembly Hall rafters.
Bruce Weber coached those players but not one single player that he recruited will hang their jersey in the Assembly Hall.  Hell, his 2010 highly regarded class that included Jereme Richmond, Myers Leonard, and Crandell Head has not one, not one of those players still on campus. 

So lets not be so quick to chastise John Groce for his current team.  He is currently making C.O.C. basketball.  Clean Out the Cupboard Basketball. 

He is in the process of bringing in his own talent that fits his system.  Bill Parcells used to say, ""If I'm going to be asked to cook the meal, I'd like to be able to pick the groceries."

Different sport but same concept. 

I have mentioned before that in the short amount of time Groce has been on campus he made serious gains in recruiting.  You have to have a foundation recruiting class in any coaches start to a program.  He did that at Ohio University by grabbing D.J. Cooper out of Chicago to start his career there.
 He is doing the same at Illinois by getting Kendrick Nunn, left, and Jaylon Tate out of Chicago Simeon.  You have to start somewhere and he is showing an ability to do so.  The future will be told but right now his current team needs an attitude adjustment.

That adjustment just might be playing the younger kids on the team and showing them the future is now.  These kids have been given scholarships to play basketball at the University of Illinois.  These scholarships are renewable after each year.  This is what a new coach will look at after the seasons end. 

If there are players in the upcoming recruiting classes they feel better fit their system and a current player who they had not brought in doesn't fit then he could have his scholarship not renewed.  Players transfer every year.  This is were the current roster of players on this Illini team need to look in the mirror and decide if they are going to be here in the future.

Because when you go to the cupboard to get your dogs a bone you want to know you have it well stocked.

And well stocked with the type of bones you crave.   



  1. Let’s see, when Groce gets off to a great start it’s in spite of Weber, but when he fails to continue his success, it’s because of Weber.

    Tate and Nunn could be good complimentary players on a great team, but without a Jabari Parker Illinois will continue to be just another mediocre team. Groce tried to recruit Parker, how did that work out?

    I notice that you did mention Myers Leonard. He was a Weber recruit who was drafted in the first round of the NBA. How about giving Weber credit for recruiting a player good enough to turn pro after two years. If Leonard continues to develop into a good pro player, you will see his jersey hanging it the assembly hall.

    1. To respond to your comment I would first ask that you look at any program who is trying to build a foundation and see who they first brought in to start their career. Coach K was struggling at Duke his first few years and then finally broke through.

      I feel like you are still upset with the firing of Bruce Weber and you need to get over it. Groce did try and recruit Parker but was only given a small window of opportunity to sell his brand. It is not Groce's first class that will tell how well he is going to succeed but the second and third classes that will define his program long term.

      This is where Weber was totally lacking in ability. If it just came to X's and O's Weber is a fantastic coach. In the recruiting game he just isn't a closer.

      As for Leonard and seeing his jersey won't happen. There are requirements in order to accomplish this great honor. There are six different criteria as follows: national player of the year, member of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, U.S. Olympian, Big Ten Player of the Year, first- or second-team All-American or Illinois All-Century Team member. Mr. Leonard was none of the above. I wish him success as an Illini basketball alumni and enjoyed his play at times but as for his legacy at Illinois it will be unfortunately lackluster.

      I want Illinois to be successful and their former players to be successful. As for former coaches, I don't care if they are successful. That is what makes me an Illini fan and not a fan of a particular coach.

      You are either with us or against us. Plain and simple.

  2. Outstanding blog! A very accurate read of the situation! Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the reply and positive feedback. Hope to hear more from you in the future.

  3. Unlike, Mr. Basketball, I am not necessarily a Weber fan, however, he is right in this instance.

    First, facts we can all agree on:
    When Weber is given great players, he will win with them.
    Unfortunately, he did not show the ability to recruit those elite players at Illinois.

    Now, for the cold hard facts of reality:
    No coach is going to consistently recruit top tier players at Illinois. It is impossible to get that kind of player to commit to a University that has an outdated arena that looks like a mushroom in the middle of a corn field, and that has a fan base who spends every waking moment trying to find ways to bring back from the dead their beloved mascot, the Dancing Indian.

    If by some stroke of luck a Bill Self appears, the moment he has shown he is a winner, he will be looking at Illinois in the rear view mirror of his car.

    Which brings us back to Weber, a good, but not great coach who had some weaknesses. A perfect fit for Illinois, who has a good but not great athletic program with some major flaws.

  4. Weber recruited a first round draft choice, a fact you still will not acknowledge. It could be that Leonard had no interest in the U of I after Weber was fired. No one knows the answer to that but Leonard, and I don't think he is the type of person to say one way or the other.

    It really doesn't matter if his jersey is ever on the rafters or not, he has a great future, and any true Illinois fan should root for his success in the NBA.

    1. I acknowledge he recruited Myers, as you have mentioned a first round draft choice, and I also mentioned I hope Myers is successful in the NBA. I want ALL past, present, and future Illini to be successful.

      I just feel the past is what we are trying to get away from. Illinois has a new AD who is trying to build a winning culture and won't settle for second best.

      Things change. Cultures change. Every Illini fan wants a winning program and it is possible here.

      You have to believe in it. If you constantly say it can't and won't happen at Illinois then you are just as bad as those fans who leave the arena early.

      We will see what Groce is able to accomplish in his recruiting and if he wants to build a program for the long term. Or if he is just another coach along for the ride with a stop in Champaign before his next destination.

      Great debate and appreciate the readership. I look forward to continued discussions in the future.

      And GO ILLINI!