Feb 19, 2013, 11:01 AM EST
The turnaround Illinois has made over the course of the last two weeks is one of the more shocking developments in a season where nothing should come as a surprise.
There’s a reason that I’ve dubbed this “The Year of WTF?!?”
The Illini won their first 12 games of the season — including big wins at Gonzaga and against Butler in the finals of the Maui Invitational — and looked to be a candidate to finish in the top four of the Big Ten after whooping up on Ohio State at home in the second game of the conference season.
And then the wheels fell off.
They were embarrassed against Minnesota at home. They were smacked around by Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. They lost by 14 points to Northwestern at home. But things started to look better near the end of January. Illinois hung with Michigan at home, gave Michigan State a scare in East Lansing (they were up 10 at halftime), and nearly picked off Wisconsin in Champaign. Finally, on February 7th, Illinois broke through, using a 13-2 run to close out an upset-win over No. 1 Indiana and following that up with a win at Minnesota and blowout victories over Purdue and Northwestern.
All of a sudden, the Illini team that we thought could make a run in the Big Ten two months ago is back.
What’s so surprising about that is we’ve become accustomed to Bruce Weber’s Illinois teams collapsing after a tough stretch. And after this group lost six of seven, it was easy to connect the dots — this wasn’t a coaching issue, this was a player personnel issue. This group just couldn’t handle success.
Well, we’ve been proven wrong.
Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com did a good job breaking down the change in the Illini over the past two weeks, and in the process churned out a couple of quotes that could be read as an indictment of Bruce Weber:
“The coaches never gave up on us,” senior guard Brandon Paul said. “They want to see us succeed. They said, we’ve had this rough stretch but gotta fight through it. No one on the team gave up on each other.”
“Don’t give in,” Paul said. “Don’t let what outsiders say affect us. I think that’s definitely been in our minds. A lot of people doubted us when we went through that rough stretch. [Groce’s] a guy with unbelievable energy. He comes in every day and he gives us the passion to want to compete and get better every day. That’s something you need in a coach.”
“It’s a whole different staff, whole different team, whole different attitude,” Richardson said. “Everything’s different. This team is no comparison to last year.”
Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the inner-workings of the relationships between Bruce Weber and his team last season. And even if Weber did give up on last year’s Illini team, that’s not an excuse for the players giving up as well.
But more than anything, what those quotes tell us is that Illinois got themselves a steal in John Groce.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:56 PM EST
After shooting 40.7% from the field and 29.4% from three as a sophomore, Anderson’s off to a hot start for the sixth-ranked Cavaliers.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:26 PM EST
With these dismissals Dayton has no eligible players taller than 6-foot-6.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
This may be the most interesting night of hoops this week.
Dec 17, 2014, 3:44 PM EST
What changes will Kansas make to get better by March?
Dec 17, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
They are so short-handed that even the head coach is participating in practices.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:53 PM EST
Treadwell was accused of assaulting a member of the women’s team.
Dec 17, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell broke his right hand in a win over DePaul.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:16 AM EST
The Shockers miss Cleanthony Early, but how much will this hurt them in the long-term?
Dec 17, 2014, 10:33 AM EST
This is one of the most surprising posterizeds we’ve seen this year.
Dec 17, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Michigan State lost a lot of talent and experience from a title contender last season, but they’ve remained a top 25 team thanks to tremendous three-point shooting.
Dec 17, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
Who doesn’t love buzzer-beaters, especially when they’re from half court?
Dec 17, 2014, 12:58 AM EST
That’s one heartbreaking way to lose a game.
Late Night Snacks: Wichita State mounts furious comeback on Alabama, Myles Turner has big night for Texas
Dec 16, 2014, 11:55 PM EST
Myles Turner has a monster night.
Dec 16, 2014, 11:49 PM EST
Wichita State found a way to win in a thrilling home game against Alabama.
Dec 16, 2014, 10:10 PM EST
Creighton will be without a reserve guard for an undetermined period of time.
Dec 16, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
Duke will add the son of a former NBA legend to its roster in 2015-16.
Dec 16, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Houston should get a major boost to its lineup this weekend with the return of its starting point guard.
Dec 16, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
Iowa State is losing a guard that didn’t fit into the rotation.
Dec 16, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Texas is already without Isaiah Taylor and lost more guard depth on Tuesday.
Dec 16, 2014, 5:02 PM EST
But there are a couple of good, off-the-radar games.
- Chase for 180: So far, so good for Virginia’s Justin Anderson 0
- New Year’s Resolutions: Kansas Jayhawks 0
- Wichita State’s offensive struggles highlighted by come-from-behind win vs. Alabama 1
- Michigan State’s efficient three-point shooting is key for 2014-15 success 0
- No. 11 Wichita State rallies from 11 down to beat Alabama thanks to Van Vleet (VIDEO) 0
- The Ten Most Important Midseason Additions 0
- Player of the Year Power Rankings: New faces are popping up in our top ten 0
- Dana Altman says Oregon’s hands up, don’t shoot protest not ‘appropriate time’ (20)
- Georgetown discusses becoming first college basketball team to wear ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts (PHOTO) (9)
- Gregg Marshall writes to Wichita State students after seeing empty seats in student section (PHOTO) (7)
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (5)
- Self says No. 10 Kansas is ‘not good right now’, and that should scare you (4)