Illini basketball

Lesson of McKendree: Thorne’s shooting will cost Illini crucial wins this season

Did you hear about the guy with two thumbs who was worried after his team’s 47-point blowout?

John Groce laughed at the question: Has the staff tried to persuade Mike Thorne to use the backboard, or get closer to the hoop, when shooting?

It wasn’t meant to be funny. John Groce’s seat is far too warm for him to laugh at the idea. Hopefully he laughed because he knows old dogs don’t learn new tricks, not because he thought the question silly.

It’s a question that desperately needs deeper inquiry.

If Mike Thorne continues to fling the ball toward the hoop, rather than employing tried/true methods for finishing, Illinois will lose just the right amount of conference games to ensure an NIT berth.  In pooh-poohing the notion, Groce looks like Hillary’s rust-belt operatives. Does he truly not recognize the percentages?

One of the dumber traditions of the Groce Regime (and there are many to choose from) is the insistence on having each team huddle break with the chant

One, two, three

All-for-one and One-for-all

One, two, three


The lack of musicality is a problem. It’s an awkward group of words for purposes of metre. But that’s just a dorkiness problem.

Like any rote tedium, this incantation lost any meaning long ago. Say it enough times, and it becomes untrue.

Finishing should be important, but it’s obviously not important to Groce.  He’s sanguine about the utter lack of results.

Why does John Groce laugh at a problem which could, quite conceivably, cost him millions of dollars?

In some circles, Groce is thought of as “a players’ coach. ” Certainly, he’s had a number of fervent defenders among guys that played for him. Sam McLaurin said Groce was the first coach he’d known who listened to players’ ideas/input.

That’s all well and good. But Groce is a numbers guy if he’s anything, right? A math nerd?

Numbers lie. But numbers + subjective experience tell me that Mike Thorne connected on 1-of-6 shots from close range in the first half of Tuesday’s game.

His rebounding numbers were bad, too. His stats looked fine at the end of the game (double-double), but they didn’t look good subjectively.

If you want to celebrate the positives of Tuesday’s assault on the Little Sisters of Charity, there are plenty to choose from.

Some of them involve Mike Thorne.

To reiterate; I am a Mike Thorne fan. I like Mike Thorne personally.

I respect Mike Thorne.

I recognize the hurdles Mike Thorne has been forced to leap.

Mike Thorne is engaging and funny.

And John Groce must rein him in if this team wants to compete for anything meaningful this season.

Maverick Morgan, it seems, has Gotten It. He’s simplified his motions, especially on defense. He tallied exactly 0 personal fouls in 20 minute playing time, mostly at the center position.

His shot selection is excellent.

Jalen Coleman-Lands made 6-of-9 from three, but he also tallied three assists. JCL’s passing is way underrated.  I’m still looking for video of that mid-lane whip he delivered to KNunn last year, for the dunk.

On Tuesday, his overhead, behind-the-back assist to Mav elicited an audible gasp from the crowd.

Tracy Abrams enjoyed his best game as an Illini. He played within himself. His crisp passes excited his teammates as much as the crowd.

He didn’t miss a shot, and 4-of-5 were from the arc.

Tracy has been the focus of much media attention this fall, so it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s been overlooked. What might been overlooked is Dr. Jekyll, the version of Tracy Abrams that does everything right. Dr. Jekyll showed up for SEMO and for McKendree. That’s 50% for the year. Something north of 85% will be necessary if this team hopes to make the NCAA Tournament.

The weight of the world is on Tracy Abrams’s shoulders, which is exactly what Tracy Abrams always wanted.

Illini fans may accept this situation as inevitable or propitious.

Tracy truly is the determining factor for this team.

Jaylon Tate, bitches. Jaylon Tate.

Just keep saying that to yourselves, until you grow accustomed: Jaylon fucking Tate.

Eight assists and zero turnovers: Jaylon Tate.

Abrams picked up two quick fouls on Tuesday. That allowed Te’Jon Lucas to get on the floor while the game still mattered.  As with every other time he’s seen action, Te’Jon made the game more fun to watch than it had been without him.

The team’s best player continues to be Michael Finke. The skinny, slow, unathletic afterthought white kid is now the muscular, agile, canny man-among-boys on the court.

You could argue it’s mostly his court-sense. He’s a legacy, a coach’s kid. Yeah?

You may be right. But his physical talent is thrilling, especially when observed in tandem with the control he exerts over his own body.

Finally, shout out to Tom Michael and his offspring Nate.

Tom attended the game along with Rick Darnell, who fixed The Seating Problem at State Farm Center before moving into a non-sports “development” position with the U of I Foundation.

For people who don’t know, Mike Thomas and Rick Darnell were largely responsible for pissing-off the yokels who kept Illini sports irrelevant for most of the last three decades by refusing to pony up going-rates in exchange for season tickets.

That problem is fixed, now. Thomas got a golden parachute. Darnell got new scenery. Curmudgeonly spendthrifts may, in years to come, tell you how awful they were.


D.J. Williams is the lithe, fluid wing whose grace-in-motion has not been here seen since …

I actually can’t think of a player of DJ’s dimensions who moves so quickly, yet so precisely.  Except … maybe one.

It may be surprising to Illini fans, who seem to think of DJ as completely inscrutable when they think of him at all. But Dennis O’Keefe Williams is something akin to Marcus Liberty, but with the reputation way under-represented instead of hurtfully over-hyped.

Aaron Jordan may not be experiencing the Kendall Gill-like sophomore boost that Kendall Gill experienced. He’s still the most obvious Next Kendall Gill since Kendall Gill.

A kind person, Aaron may need to become slightly more assholey on the court to realize the Gill comparison. He describes himself as liking the perimeter. He needs to dunk on motherfuckers.

You were wondering about that “administrative technical foul?”

Oh, no? You weren’t? Oh, well that’s because you, like most people, weren’t watching the game. Especially the closing minutes.

Samson Oladimeji entered the game, in the closing minutes. His #14 jersey bore no name. Evidently, the score-keeping ledger also lacked an entry for him.

You’ll recall a similar situation with Purdue’s John Hart, whose name was not entered into the official scoring book by then-SID Cory Walton.

Following this egregious fuck-up, Walton left Purdue for Arizona, a legitimately good basketball program. And now, he’s administering information for …wait for it …. DUKE!

I gotta meet this guy’s family. Mere merit hasn’t elevated me to the level I’d expec … oh, nevermind.