Illinois Fighting Illini Archive
With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we close out our look at the Big Ten with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
One thing’s for certain in John Groce’s early Illini tenure: He’s never short on histrionics. In a sport where coaches strut the sideline like a runway, Groce’s facial contortions stand out.
But a more important, less superficial analysis of Groce’s first full season in Champaign reveals one in which he didn’t let the program slip. The team started out 12-0, which included a win over Butler for the 2012 Maui Invitational Championship. Illinois climbed as high as No. 10 in week seven of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. While the Big Ten season (8-10, tied-7th) was nothing more than average, the Illini did nip then-No. 1 Indiana at the other Assembly Hall. The team also made the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed after missing out in Bruce Weber’s last season at the helm. It beat Colorado in the second round before falling to No. 2 Miami in a close game, 63-59.
And Groce’s returns with recruits should give the Illini faithful some hope. It’s been a super September. Class of 2014 standouts Quentin Snider (No. 37), a former Louisville verbal, and Leron Black (No. 39) both gave pledges to Groce this month. Both were also targets of the Indiana staff.
Groce also has made inroads into the tough world of Chicago hoops recruiting. A pair of Simeon pledges (Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate) join the team this year. While they are no Jabari Parker, their former teammate who will lace up his shoes for Coach K this season in what’s likely a one-and-done campaign, it’s an important duo to set a climate that Groce can wrangle in kids from Chicago’s south side. (Nunn, No. 56, in particular, has some skill.) The Illini may not be the lead dog for Curie’s Cliff Alexander, another Chicago product, but it bodes well that Groce and his staff are still in the mix as his commitment nears.
Thoughts on an 80-64 victory over Illinois:
CHICAGO — Two D.J. Richardson free throws closed the gap to 60-52 with 8:17 to go, and you wondered: Would it happen again? Would the Illini make a late charge like they did all those weeks ago in Champaign and make a game of it after the Hoosiers had controlled it for so long?
Nope. Not this time, not this team. It was as close as Illinois would get the rest of the way, as Indiana simply wouldn’t allow for a collapse. It finished the game on a 20-12 run — enough for a comfortable 16-point victory and punctuated with a breakaway #nomee 360-degree slam from Victor Oladipo, who shut down a whining Brandon Paul (2-of-13) and posted yet another double-double (12 points, 11 boards).
Both teams would have difficulty adjusting to the United Center’s sight lines to begin the contest. By the second TV timeout, the Hoosiers and Illini were only a combined 5-of-19 from the floor. At half, the teams combined to shoot only 2-of-14 from distance. It was also a bit of a slopfest; they combined for 19 turnovers. But the Hoosiers were able to take a 14-point lead (35-21) into the break because of their ability to score at the cup (18 points in the paint) and get to the line (10-of-12) — accounting for 28 of their 35 first half points. Indiana also put on a defensive clinic and held the Illini to just a 7-of-27 (25.9 percent) shooting from the floor.
Things opened up a bit for both team’s in the second half, which allowed Illini that run to cut the gap to eight. But by game’s end, the Hoosiers held U of I to under a point per possession (.96), just about what the Hoosiers’ defense averaged in league play (.98).
Cody Zeller is dominant in his own right, but against Illini’s weak frontline, he feasted all game long and was efficient in the process — a 9-of-11 performance for 24 points. He would post a perfect 6-of-6 line from the line and find Will Sheehey — who was strong offensively for a second straight game (11 points, 4-of-4) — on a nifty back door cut in the first half. His afternoon would not be without fault, though, as he did record four of Indiana’s 16 turnovers. The Hoosiers turned the ball over on 21.3 percent of their possessions.
CHICAGO — Check out 23 photos by Jamie Owens from Indiana’s 80-64 win over Illinois at the United Center in the embedded photo gallery after the jump. Purchase prints from J. Scott Sports.
From the 2:49 mark onward, the Illini finished Thursday night’s upset on a 12-2 run (13-2 over the last 3:33). Beyond Indiana’s breakdown on the final play of the ballgame, the Hoosiers were also out-executed on D.J. Richardson’s back-to-back 3-pointers.
A look at these three plays, as well as Indiana’s final possession in the latest edition of Film Session:
I. FIRST RICHARDSON 3-POINTER
On an inbounds play on the baseline, Tyler Griffey and and D.J. Richardson come to meet inbetween the left wing and the left elbow:
Griffey eventually gets a body on Sheehey, and Richardson pops out and starts to make a move and curls to the corner:
Griffey continues to get a body into Sheehey. Sam McLaurin is now involved. As Watford looks to switch and follow Richardson, here comes another screen from McLaurin:
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After leading by 14 points on two separate occasions, Indiana couldn’t hold on Thursday night at Assembly Hall and the No. 1 Hoosiers dropped their second conference game 74-72 to Illinois. The loss moved IU into a three-way tie with Michigan and Michigan State for the Big Ten lead.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from IU’s loss to the Fighting Illini:
· About that final play: Tyler Griffey’s game-winning, wide-open layup will get all of the headlines, but Indiana’s inability to put Illinois away when it had the chance is the real story of this loss. One particular sequence that stood out: The Hoosiers led 55-41 with 12:55 remaining following a Will Sheehey dunk. Hanner Mosquera-Perea was subbed in for Cody Zeller at the 12:45 mark and gave up a layup and then a 3-point play. The Hoosiers would extend the lead back to double digits on a couple more occasions, but when there’s blood in the water on the road, allowing an opponent to quickly regain momentum can prove costly. ”We didn’t put them away when we had the opportunity,” Tom Crean said postgame. “That’s really the bottom line.”
· Sheehey’s technical was unnecessary and costly: It may have seemed harmless at the time because Indiana was beginning to open things up on Illinois late in the first half, but the technical foul on Sheehey ended up being a crucial mistake. Debating whether the technical was deserved is futile, but it’s fair to wonder if Sheehey’s antics on the bench and also in the win at Purdue have given him a reputation with officials. Playing with an edge is one thing, but when it leads to picking up an unnecessary technical foul, it may be time to dial it back and just play.
· Cody Zeller didn’t get enough field goal attempts: Illinois had no one on its roster capable of guarding Cody Zeller and IU failed to take advantage of the foul trouble that plagued Nnanna Egwu all night. Zeller finished the night with just six field goal attempts. Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell and Sheehey all had more looks. Does Indiana need to do a better job of finding Zeller? Does Zeller need to do a better job of establishing position and calling for the ball? Probably a little bit of both, but when there’s a clear mismatch, Indiana needs to exploit it. Zeller still finished with a team-high 14 points because he got to the foul line six times (all in the first half), but getting the ball inside as the lead was evaporating may have changed the outcome.
No. 1 Indiana was outscored 13-2 down the stretch Thursday night, so the game’s final play certainly wasn’t the only reason the Hoosiers fell 74-72 at Illinois. But since it was what ultimately ended the game, let’s take a closer look at the way Illinois scored the deciding two.
Brandon Paul, who had scored 21 points, took the ball out for the Illini with Victor Oladipo guarding him. Sam McLaurin lined up in the corner guarded by Cody Zeller. D.J. Richardson, who shot Illinois back into the game late, came off a high screen from Tyler Griffey and wound up well behind the 3-point line on the right wing. Richardson was initially guarded by Yogi Ferrell and Griffey by Christian Watford, but the Hoosiers switched on the screen. Joseph Bertrand was on the other side of the court, guarded by Will Sheehey.
After the initial screen didn’t produce any results, Richardson continued to move toward the right baseline and the inbounder, Paul. Watford attempted to follow Richardson. McLaurin, meanwhile, set a hard screen on Ferrell, and Griffey cut to the basket. But Zeller, who looked like he was supposed to switch with Ferrell after the McLaurin screen, didn’t follow Griffey.
Layup and ballgame.
“It was a broken play for them,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. “We were not going to give them a chance to set up and win the game on a lob. They were out of timeouts, we had two, I wouldn’t change that for a second, not calling a timeout there. We just didn’t communicate well. … Pressure of the moment a little bit.”
Added Zeller: “I guess it was just a miscommunication. I haven’t seen it yet.”
Hoosiers can’t put the game away
In the end, the Hoosiers lost on Thursday because of a bad defensive breakdown. But they would never have been in that situation if they had continued to execute offensively down the stretch like they had for much of the game. Indiana was so good offensively at times in the game that ESPN’s Seth Greenberg said the Hoosiers were “putting on an offensive clinic” during the halftime show.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Tom Crean met with the media following No. 1 Indiana’s 74-72 loss to Illinois at Assembly Hall on Thursday evening.
Watch and listen to his postgame comments in the embedded media player below: