Our State. Our Team.

 

Our State. Our Team.  This is the slogan that has been reiterated throughout the current season.  Despite our football team’s lackluster 2012-2013 season that ended with the disappointing record (2-10),  I think we can finally say the slogan with confidence.

Currently the record is an impressive 11-0.  The team’s new coach John Groce has clearly adjusted to his team and has few questioning his coaching abilities.  Last night Illinois sent Norfolk State back with a story they wish they could tell differently.  The final score was 64-54 Illinois.

The past couple of years the team has performed subpar under former coach Bruce Weber.  This was my second game I ever attended and I can say impressive is an accurate description. After maneuvering through the crowd of blue and orange fans, I settled in only to become anxious.  Can we really win 11?  I sat through the entire game quiet.  I observed the fans and the players.

Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson didn’t hold back scoring a combined score of 25 points.  The fans were at ease because many knew going into the game we would end victoriously because no one really knows about Norfolk State.  As I listened to the crowd some whispered “Where is Norfolk? What is their record?”

 

Norfolk is a University located in a city in Virginia of the same name.  The Spartans record currently is 6-6.  That is all the information you need to know.  The bigger question is can we win 12 in a row?  Sunday December 16th Illinois takes on Eastern Kentucky.  This will be an interesting game because Eastern Kentucky will also enter the game undefeated (9-0).  How much longer will the streak continue?

 

The only way to predict how the season will go would be to consider all of the factors that contribute to the much coveted W.   These factors include the coach and the players.  Brandon Paul, the player who scored 35 points in this past weekend’s game against Gonzaga was named Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week this past Tuesday.  Let us not forget DJ Richardson who was escorted from the game in the first half after colliding into a player from Norfolk.  He suffered a upper shoulder contusion.  Despite his injury he continued the game contributing 11 points to the winning score.

 

John Groce, the same coach who led his previous team Ohio to the NCAA tournament twice and ended with a record 85-56, has proven that looking at old records can be a clear indicator of success.  He has exceeded expectations and has taken a team in need of new direction to a place no one could have guessed they would be.  If we win Sunday’s game every game following will be entered with a great amount of anticipation because fans will be expecting the undefeated record to end.  Only time will tell if the team can continue this winning streak, but according to our record. I believe we have a good chance.

 

Twitter @MsSportsBlog

Email anders87@illinois.edu

Image Source: thesportsbank.net

Looking back at Illinois vs. Gonzaga

Down 12-3 at Gonzaga, the first thing that came to my head as a jaded Illinois basketball fan was, “it’s over”.

 

As a self-proclaimed sports pessimist, this way of thinking, from the Bears to the Bulls to the White Sox, is very common with me.

 

But with the Illini, it isn’t just pessimism driving my inner-monologue. It’s habit.

 

Having spent countless hours sitting in front of my TV watching the Illini lose game after game the last few years under Bruce Weber, I couldn’t get myself to think any differently. Whether getting down early by not being able to put the ball in the basket, to taking the air out of the ball and blowing late game leads, to standing around the perimeter for 34 seconds before chucking a long three, I’ve grown accustomed to the short comings of Illinois basketball. I even stopped watching games last year to make the pain go away. You can call me a bad fan, but who likes torture?

 

So on Saturday, down 12-3, pessimism started rearing its ugly head again. But what followed was different. I saw a confident John Groce call a timeout with a sense of calmness in an otherwise hostile environment, clapping his hands to encourage the team. I saw a coach who didn’t bench his players anytime a shot was taken and missed. I saw the Illini NOT melt the shot clock on every possession. I saw steals. Fastbreaks. Teammates supporting one another during team huddles. And I saw guys DRIVING TO THE HOOP when the shots stopped falling! That was a sight for sore eyes, to say the least.

 

And then there was Brandon Paul – 35 points and a block party. He has transformed his game through the new coaching staff, where his ability to get to the rim will make him some coin in the NBA next year. Last year, BP3 would have setting for the 3-ball more often then not, especially during the times when the shot clock was running down or when we were down early. This year, his thinking seems different. Big time players make big time plays, and Paul was a prime example of the good things that happen when you attack the basket.

 

In the NBA, the players more often than not determine the outcomes of games. In college, the head coach is responsible for much of the outcome. His job is to recruit the right players and put them in the best possible position to succeed. With that in mind, I believe in John Groce. From his “attacking” style of play to his post-game interviews to his media sessions to his ability to relate to players, I see someone with the knack for big-time college basketball. Though there are still a ton of shortcomings on this team (post play, over-reliance on BP3, ball handling), I believe that JG will recruit high quality players to address these weaknesses down the road. I believe that, once he gets his own players into the system, there won’t be such an emphasis on the three-ball, which is always a good thing. I believe that Groce has completely changed the culture and outlook of Illinois basketball in less than a year. I believe that Christmas has come early for Illini fans.

Twitter – @tjpatel403
Email – tjpatel403@gmail.com