Feb 19, 2013, 11:01 AM EDT
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.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Every year, there are a handful of teams that could use a couple of wins in their respective league tournaments to gain entry into the field of 68. Here are five schools that need to string some wins together this week to feel comfortable making NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
In light of the back injury that will keep Joel Embiid out for the Big 12 tournament and could foreseeably saddle him to the bench for the entirety of the NCAA tournament, we decided to take a look at season-ending injuries to key players on past National Title contenders: Kenyon Martin: Cincinnati was the No. 1…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here. Bowling Green will not be renewing the contract of head coach Louis Orr, the school announced on Tuesday. Orr had coached the Falcons for seven seasons, finishing with a 101-121 record and just one season with a .500 record or better. BGSU was 12-20 this past…
2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC
Mar 11, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The American came into this season as a big unknown, but with five likely NCAA Tournament teams and three All-Americans, this is one of the better leagues in college basketball this season. Can Louisville win the league in its only year in the American or will Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU or UConn get in the way?
Mar 11, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Vegas is good at predicting winners. Here are their odds for all of the major conference tournaments.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Four automatic bids will be earned on Tuesday night, with the West Coast Conference title game headlining.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Doug McDermott. Player of the Year. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Saint Louis will look to repeat as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champion, but it won’t be easy. The field in Brooklyn could have six, yes six, NCAA tournament-bound teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
When you take your team to 34-0, you’re the National Coach of the Year. Pretty sure our forefathers wrote that into the Constitution.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Now 15 teams deep, the ACC’s showcase event will span five days in Greensboro. Between the new arrivals, one upcoming departure and a plethora of talented players, this will be must-see television.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
The Duke star is NBCSports.com’s National Freshman of the Year.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:53 AM EDT
South Dakota will not be renewing the contract of their interim head coach.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:36 AM EDT
Click through to find out why it’s important to pay your rent on time.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT
How safe is Gonzaga after last night’s win? Where will Delaware be seeded come Sunday?
Mar 11, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
Florida is the best team in the country, let alone the SEC. But what else do we know about anyone in the league? Read why this week will tell us so much.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:52 AM EDT
Three more teams are dancing after tonight’s exhilarating conference tournament action.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:05 AM EDT
There are eight days left until Selection Sunday. Every morning from now until the bracket comes out, we’ll help you get caught up on the happenings with impact on the bubble from the night before. Our latest bracket projection can be found here. Gonzaga: The Zags entered Monday night’s WCC quarterfinal sitting in pretty good…
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT
In less than 36 months, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has taken the Jaspers from 6-25 to the NCAA tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
Wofford is heading back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last five years.
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