Categories
Illini basketball

The Option

During October’s open scrimmage, John Groce called a timeout so he could draw up a play. His Orange Team had the ball under the Blue Team’s basket. His goal was to get the ball inbounded, and possibly past the halfcourt timeline. Orange had a small lead, and little time remained on the game clock.

I was sitting close enough to hear his instructions.

Each player had three sets of potential play-action to remember. Jaylon Tate would inbound the ball, and the other four would respond to his choices.

If you’d seen this play from the catwalk at the Ubben & Corzine Complex, or if you’d watched it on TV, it would look like a ten foot pass from Tate (under the basket, near side) to Malcolm Hill (in the free throw lane). If you could hear the instructions that led to that ten foot pass, you might think the nation’s security were at stake, or that someone were performing emergency surgery, directed by a doctor over the phone.

In the following weeks, I began writing a column titled The Option. It sat in my drafts folder for the next few months.  I needed some additional evidence to support my Theory of John Groce. Saturday at Michigan, I got it.

On a similar inbounds play, Kipper Nichols stood at the far side low block, under the Illini basket. (i.e. farther from the TV cameras, closer to the team bench).  The ball was under the basket on the near side.

Kipper looked over his right shoulder and asked “do what?” His brow furrowed, his eyes skewed. If his words hadn’t made clear his confusion, everything about his expression and posture got the message across.

John Groce either didn’t hear him, or chose not to broadcast an explanation. A moment later, Maverick Morgan fielded the inbounds pass.

You’ve probably noticed that basketball, over the last three decades, became soccer.

Man-to-man defense became the helping/hedging/switching territorial responsibility regimen that you might call “zone defense” if that term were not already occupied.

On offense, simple set-plays, in which each of the five players has a specific duty, no longer exist. Whether it’s full-on Motion Offense, or the varietal preached by John Groce known as Flowgame, or the modern mutation still called “set-play” which directs players to read-and-react; today’s strategy must be described like computer programming’s “if this, then that” language.

It’s become The Option.

That John Groce is respected throughout the coaching community might seem counterintuitive when acknowledging that John Groce has failed at Illinois. But it makes perfect sense if you knew why he’s failed.

Coaches understand Groce. They admire his “basketball mind.” Sometimes players understand him, too.

John Groce closed his practices to reliable reporters. Boatloads of people attended Illini practices since John Groce took over, just not objective observers.

If Brad Sturdy were allowed to watch practice, he might provide detailed reports on strategy. Brad is well conversant with basketball terminology. Most of his post-game questions concern formations. He keeps track when the team switches from Pack Line to 1-3-1 zone defense.

Brad, as knowledgeable and kind as he is, is not a reliable source for determining Groce’s ability to communicate concepts. For that, you’d need someone far less expert than Brad. Not necessarily a layperson, not a basketball novice. You’d want someone with a grasp of the game, but not an analyst’s understanding of concepts.

I asked Groce, on the day he was hired, whether he’d allow media to observe practice. He said no. It’s a teaching environment, he explained.

One infers that Groce intended to protect his players from embarrassment and ridicule.  As it happens,  his players are embarrassed and ridiculed routinely these days, and most people blame that on John Groce.

Frankly, everyone lacks a reputable source to explain the problem. What is John Groce doing wrong? You’ll never know.

But watching Bruce Weber’s practices taught me that Jerrance Howard gave very clear, thorough instructions. I understood everything he wanted.

Weber was hard to follow, unless he was angry. Jay Price spoke in technical gobbledygook.

Wayne McClain repeated his concepts a lot, reinforcing them with body language.  Explaining single-single screen reads took him a long time, because he had to walk through each option a number of times, constantly quizzing the players on their understanding of the concept.

Wayne McClain explain.

That difference of style recalled to me a seminar in Law & Economics taught jointly by Tom Ulen and Russell Korobkin. Ulen stuck to a few general concepts, and repeatedly reinforced them with different viewpoints and examples. Korobkin didn’t have enough time to get across all he wanted to say about everything.

Ulen won a lot of teaching awards, and Korobkin is regarded as a brilliant “legal mind.” What’s more important to the student?

It’s the same with basketball, where the average LSAT score is immeasurably lower.

At an Illini media luncheon following autumn’s first week of basketball practice, Loren Tate told a story about his friend Lou Henson, New Mexico State’s Special Advisor to Aggie head coach Paul Weir.

Lou told Tate that he’d admonished Weir against overcoaching. I don’t remember the exact quote, but the idea came across clearly. Weir was trying to install too much system. Henson recognized that the players were getting bogged down with theory, and becoming confused.

John Groce’s strategies may be so complex that his team doesn’t fully grasp them until April, or next summer. He may be the greatest teacher in the history of basketball. But the lesson must be executed Wednesday at 8 p.m.

That’s the part that Groce (has probably explained and yet) can’t get across.

Private conversations divulge that people who’ve coached basketball  can’t understand Groce’s strategies. That’s the ultimate compliment, in a way. But it also fuels the suggestion that players don’t understand Groce’s strategies.

Coaches really do think John Groce is a master theoretician. That’s not the issue.

The other problem with this year’s Illinois team, recognized by everyone, is defensive intensity. There’s no sense of urgency.

At Michigan, Illinois ran into an inspired opponent. The Wolverines were lackadaisical on D when they came to Champaign. Assistant coach Billy Donlon lit a fire under them, and they played intense defense during the return game.

Illinois matched that intensity in the late stages of the game. Nichols was especially active in this respect. Because he was 94 feet from me at the time, I couldn’t see whether his recovery instincts matched his energy (i.e. whether he stayed aware of his primary coverage responsibility during help defense).

Combining these two factors (caring + knowing what to do) is the magic formula that’s eluded John Groce this year.

And then there’s his reluctance to interfere with old habits.

Sam McLaurin still says Groce is the best coach he ever had. But Sam is an intellectual, and had already obtained a college degree when he found himself under Groce’s tutelage.

When he visited Champaign a couple weeks ago, Sam was exasperated by growing hostility in the fanbase. He said Groce was obviously going to be successful somewhere. I agreed with him, and not just to be polite. I think Groce will be successful somewhere.

It’s year five, and all the data tells us that place will not be Champaign, Illinois. Maybe it’s the professional level, where guys as mature and intelligent as Sam will follow Groce’s theories from the perspective of fellow experts.

If Groce wants to right this ship, however, he might need to follow Weber’s ill-fated example.

When he realized his job was on the line, Weber scrapped all his grand notions of theoretical basketball. He later described it as “coaching not to lose.” Instead of running motion offense, he ran orchestrated (and still fairly complicated) sets before finally devolving to the most basic, essential offense.

“Ball screen, Joe!” he’d yell.

Three Illini then moved to the wings while one ran to the top of the key to set a pick. The goal was to isolate Joseph Bertrand for a one-on-one offensive improvisation. It worked a lot, as do Malcolm Hill’s isolation plays.

Can Groce set a fire under his players, like Donlan? All signs point to “no.”

Should Groce coach “not to lose?” Probably. It might help him to not lose, which is crucial if he wants to stay in Champaign.

But does he?

The smart career move for Groce, Thad Matta, Tom Crean and Tim Miles — the four B1G coaches “on the hot seat” — would be to begin surreptitious negotiations with Missouri, whose desperation knows no financial constraints.  A fresh start and a five-year contract for $10 million sounds lovely when you’re being run out of dodge.

Categories
Illini basketball

Michigan p/review: The Tracy d/evolution

John Groce can keep the hounds off his tail for a few days, possibly even a few weeks. The rest of the Big Ten schedule is a cake walk compared to the first three weeks.

It begins in Ann Arbor, where Illinois is not favored to win, but must.


The Good Tracy needs to reemerge. That’s all Illinois needs to win this particular game.

Before this season began, a lot of fans assumed Illinois would be successful because Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne were returning. That reminded me of Douglas Adams.

“on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

Tracy’s funk is now so deep that even John Groce as admitted its existence. But amid all the bleakness, I saw a hint of evolution in Tracy’s game. It happened last week, against Michigan.

Yes, Tracy continues to drive into trees. He continues to get his shit swatted regularly.

But in just the last ten days, he’s added no-look kickouts and regular old passing to his bulldog routine. This is an ongoing story. Check back for updates.

After winning at Michigan, Illinois needs to fix a lot of other problems.

Illini post defense needs to get a lot faster, and perimeter defense must learn to balance gap coverage with staying on your man.

Maryland crushed Illinois because their defense was aggressive and smothering. Purdue crushed Illinois because our defense did the exact opposite of what Maryland did to us.

Ever wonder what coaches mean when they say “play hard?”

Maryland’s defense was the collective embodiment of playing hard. They ran to their spots and collapsed on the ball.

Maryland relied on post-trapping, while Illinois chose against double-teaming Purdue’s bigs. Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas openly expressed their incredulity at this bizarre strategy.

If Illinois wins in Ann Arbor, there’s still a possibility of salvaging the season. Illinois’ defense is terrible, and Michigan’s is worse. So it shouldn’t be a problem for Illinois to score. But will they be matadors at the other end?

If Illinois loses in Ann Arbor, it’s hard to see this team crawling back into NCAA contention.

Purdue pics by Vashoune Russell. Crappy pics by the author.

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Are we Elite? Not if we’re just mimicking everyone else.

The Purdue game was fun right up until it started. Most Illini fans already know that.

What they don’t know, unless they were there, is how cool Purdue’s pre-game ceremony was. Loren Tate mentioned it, referencing the legends involved in the recorded video portion (presented, like all pre-game videos, on the center-court jumbotron).

Loren is still the best Illini sports writer, so it’s no surprise that he took note of the presentation. It was meaningful.

Purdue’s pre-game ritual is not a passive experience. It requires the entire audience to work. Fans download the “BoilerBall Lights” app, which takes control of a smartphone’s LED light, and flashes it in coordination with everyone else’s LED light.

The combination of swelling music, the involvement of thousands, and the quasi-nationalistic call to arms video referenced in Tatelines (in which recorded Purdue greats ask rhetorically “Whose House? and the entire crowd responds “OUR HOUSE!”) achieved an atmosphere that Leni Riefenstahl might have admired.

At State Farm Center, our crowd watches an embarrassingly derivative, inescapably passive video & lighting montage that seemed pretty cool when the Bulls (first?) did it in 1993 or whenever it was.

Opponent introductions/dim the lights/crank the smoke machine … yeah, yeah. We’ve seen it. Everybody does it, and it’s just as embarrassing in Bloomington, Indiana as it is here.

Luckily, our school prides itself on innovation. Right?

A couple years ago, I told my friend Jeni that Illini athletics should trailblaze a new approach to pre-game ceremonies. We were discussing the National Anthem, and our preferred styles & performances.

I suggested that Illinois — an international university with a stated mission to embrace not merely diversity, but indeed university — should scrap the worn-out tradition altogether. If we want to remind attendees that they’re in the United States, why not let’s read a passage from the Constitution instead?

Sure, there’d be a “conservative” backlash. But those people can be invited to center court, to read the 2nd Amendment for all the “snowflakes” they so strongly revile for disrespecting … the Constitution.

We could show our international visitors what this country is really about.

Jeni’s husband Mike was in charge of Illini athletics at the time. But she recommended I mention my idea to Mike Waddell, whom she described as “the ideas guy.”

This was before I put Waddell on NPR’s All Things Considered, to promote DIA’s Mandarin simulcast experiment, which led to his appearance on The Today Show. We didn’t know each other well, but he listened to my idea.

He’s gone now, as are Jeni and her husband.  So we never got any further with the reading a passage from the Constitution discussion. But fortunately, the new DIA boss already knows about our founding document. He’s studied it. He knows why, like winning, “it’s important.”

I don’t hate The Star-Spangled Banner. I enjoy some renditions. But after decades of constant repetition, it rarely gives me chills.

I’m philosophically bothered that it’s performed de rigueur.  That’s the antithesis of the freedom from our British monarchist overlords it chronicles. Is it too soon to stop cowering before the mighty UK?

My conversation with Jeni took place long before Colin Kaepernick’s knee hit the ground.  But that later development only furthered the argument for scrapping the Banner: To replace rote recitation of a poem that promised to hunt down all the black people with a different recitation, one that changes each game.

A pastor could join a journalist to read the first amendment. An international student might read Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, which provides the formula for treaties with foreign nations. Maybe Al Gore or Donald Trump would come to read the Twelfth Amendment, which refined the electoral college.

Solemn. No light show. No piped music.

The author as Geoffrey Palmer, with Allie Groce & Jeni Thomas, possibly on the night in question

Canned noise is the worst.  Penn State’s automated lion growl  is the most annoying sound in sports. (Northwestern uses it too, but they pretend it’s a wildcat.) Fortunately, someone at DIA recognized this fact in time to scale back the aural onslaught for the 2016 football season. A gameday tech confirmed to me that some of the canned noises were eliminated before the Lovie Era got underway.

It would be great if DIA did the same for basketball. Take out all the fakery, and let the crowd make the noise. (This last part might require some other changes, of course. Nudge, nudge.) Keep the band, lose the pre-recorded crap. If the basketball team can’t generate crowd noise, don’t pretend 100 dB of screaming Ron Burgundy will make up the difference.

DIA has a lot of dedicated people. They have a lot of great ideas.  But sometimes, those ideas don’t translate.

Lu Yekai & He Liaohan have not been well served by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. Nor have a billion potential customers.

The Mandarin simulcast is a perfect example. It languishes in obscurity, mostly because it’s not actually a simulcast. The audio isn’t synchronized with the video.

So it’s unwatchable. Or at least, if you did watch it, you wouldn’t understand what was happening (which was kinda the point).

DIA has no plans to implement a synchronized Mandarin presentation (the way they synchronize Brian Barnhart’s radio clips to video highlights).

Josh has a lot on his plate.

But Tuesday night in West Lafayette, he saw & heard everything that I saw & heard. Maybe he’s begun to have some ideas.

 

 

Categories
Illini football

Losing at Purdue – A History

Let’s take a trip down memory lane as we prepare for tomorrow’s loss at Purdue.

First up is the Bruce Weber Explains Losing At Purdue postgame video that everyone always forgets. The February 2012 video went viral after Weber pined for Robbie Hummel fours years after completely ignoring eager recruit Robbie Hummel.

But this was the game that exposed Weber. Illinois jumped out to a 13-point advantage, with Demetri McCamey leading the way. But then McCamey picked up his second foul. Weber, the hideboundest of hidebound coaches, sat McCamey for the duration of the half. And that was that.

Can a struggling Illini team conquer Matt Painter’s current Jekyll & Hyde?

Oh yeah, definitely.

First off, Isaac Haas sucks. He’s just an awful lummox. And while Caleb Swanigan is double-double machine, his team still finds ways to lose despite him. Against Minnesota he went for 28 & 22, and the Boilers still lost, at home, to Little Pitino.

But Painter is familiar with The Halftime Adjustment, and this would seem to give him an advantage over John Groce.

That’s not to say that Groce doesn’t make adjustments.

Anyway, here’s what the players had to say about Tuesday’s game. Michael Finke was getting his ankle wrapped. But we did get to speak with four other Illini.





Categories
Illini basketball

Los Matadores

WEEEEEE!

If we were Gonzaga, we’d feel this way most mornings. Playing lousy teams is an excellent way to ensure wins. Competing against matador defenders ensures that your offensive sets will look great!

That’s why Mark Few and Ggreggg Marshall aren’t looking for jobs in competitive conferences. It’s why Bryce Drew may learn, over the next few years, that money isn’t everything.

Michigan stinks. They’ve got the worst defense in the Big Ten.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, statistically speaking.  Michigan can’t stop other teams from scoring, and they can’t rebound on those rare occasions when the other team misses.

John Beilein laughed about it, noting that Michigan didn’t get schooled on the boards because Illinois didn’t miss any shots (64% on twos and another 64% from three).

Beilein also readily admitted that Kipper Nichols was nowhere to be found on the Wolverine’s scouting report. Wouldn’t it be great if John Groce were so candid?

Now that Bo Ryan is gone, there’s no contest about who’s my favorite B1G coach. Like John Groce, Beilein is known more for his teams’ offensive capabilities. Defense? Not so good.

 

Te’Jon Lucas has been the proverbial back-up QB for the last three months. Now he’s the actual back-up QB, and based on the minutes he’s played in the last two games, moving in on the starting QB position.

Compare his Wednesday stats to Tracy Abrams’s. Lucas’s ATO was 8-to-1 in 23 minutes. Abrams was 3-to-1 in 24 minutes.

Each had a steal. Abrams grabbed two rebounds and Lucas one. Abrams committed three fouls and Lucas zero.

Lucas didn’t miss any shots. Tracy was 1-of-3 from the field and 2-of-3 on FTs. Lucas didn’t get to the line.

Each made a thrilling no look pass for an assist.

Kipper Nichols is unlikely to live up to the outrageous expectations foisted upon him by demented fans. Since joining the program, he’s been the fantasized savior among people with pseudonymous message-board identities & access to the Internet.

And yet, every time Nichols touched the ball on Wednesday, something really exciting happened.

Whether it was yanking a rebound from the hands of an opponent, offensive rebounds and put-backs, or nailing shots from the low post or the arc; Kipper dazzled the crowd of 11,404.

Dazzling a crowd is exactly what John Groce needs to keep his job. And he also needs about four thousand more people per game. And he needs those people to pay more for tickets.

The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, to its credit, has become far more flexible, in recent years, about ticket prices and packages. Ticket supply continues to exceed demand, so DIA dropped prices dramatically. Good for them, but bad for the bottom line.

Thrilling players like Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas sell tickets. Think of the days when Bruce Douglas lobbed & Efrem Winters dunked.

Indiana gets 50% more people per game. They probably don’t sell tickets for $6.78/per, either.

Indiana gets 50% more people per game. They probably don’t sell tickets for $6.78/per, either.

Jalen Coleman-Lands connected on 4-of-5 threes, for 12 points. His passing remains underrated (4 assists). Maverick Morgan also dished four assists from the center position, and converted eight of his nine attempts from the floor.

With Jaylon Tate and Mike Thorne combining for exactly zero minutes, one wonders whether Groce will contract his rotation to the degree that mentor Thad Matta usually does … something like six or seven players per game.

Probably not.

But as long as The Producers continue to produce, the non-producers are likely relegated to cheerleading and spectating.

Illinois was lousy on defense, and that’s okay. Most people don’t care about defense, just so long as the home team leads by 15 to 20 points throughout the second half.

If he can’t ensure that his team connects on 64% of shots night-in/night-out, John Groce may want to hire a defensive mastermind, like Chris Lowery or Wayne McClain, to instill defensive toughness in his matadors.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman dunks over Malcolm Hill
Categories
Illini basketball

The Missed Milestone, the Missed Miracle

Ex-Ohio State assistant coach leads team to astonishing comeback! Champaign kid goes off in miraculous conference road win!

Both those things happened this weekend, just not to us.

At this point, I’m surprised only that people are surprised. Everything we’ve seen this basketball season is consistent with everything we’ve ever seen from the individuals involved. They are who we thought they are.

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted an Illini Report. What was there to say that you couldn’t read elsewhere?

Well, there’s a lot, actually. I started writing it four times. That is, there are four unpublished pieces in my drafts folder. I had a lot to vent, and some lovely insider gems.

But it’s all hurtful stuff. It’s all borne of frustration, anger and cynicism.  You can read plenty of that elsewhere, too.

John Groce watches from the sidelines (Vashoune Russell)

After 3 of the last 4 games, I was never tempted to follow The Good Tracy with The Bad Tracy. That’s not to say I didn’t write it. I just didn’t publish it.

It would certainly have been appropriate.

John Groce continues his misdirection strategy in defending Tracy (a refreshing change from Bruce Weber’s incessant player-trashing) to emphasize the qualities Tracy brings every day.

I feel bad for Tracy Abrams. I take no enjoyment from berating his failures. I’d love to see him leave Illinois as a champion.

Tracy Abrams disappointed at Indiana (Vashoune Russell)

As the “play Te’Jon Lucas” hue & cry makes its way across all forms of media, the usual suspect is Jaylon Tate. But Tate’s passing at Indiana was, like always, dynamic and exciting. He had three times as many assists as Abrams in half the minutes.

From a passing standpoint, D.J. Williams and Michael Finke are better PGs than Abrams. Jalen-Coleman-Lands continues to fly under the radar for his court vision & ability to find open teammates.

Jalen Coleman-Lands for the save!

Tracy Abrams is undoubtedly a leader, and a disciplined worker. He’s an almost perfect soldier in his willingness to execute orders, and a model sergeant for his determination to motivate his troops to implement the policies dictated by his commanders.

In year five of the Groce Administration, those policies tempt military analogies. The Maginot Line for defense. Vietnam for understanding our opponent.

Mike Thorne boxes out (Vashoune Russell)

I introduced the season by writing that Mike Thorne’s interior tendencies would frustrate Illini fans, and that Te’Jon Lucas should consider redshirting. Neither observation was intended to insult the player involved. Mike Thorne is one of the most likeable guys on the team. And Te’Jon’s repeated DNPs are not his fault nor his choice.

Thorne never plays much, and continues to start. I’m good with that. Through 16 games, Maverick Morgan averages 21 minutes to Thorne’s 15. In conference, Thorne has played even less.

Maverick Morgan blocks OG Anunoby (Vashoune Russell)

It’s fun to think about opponents taking the time to scout Thorne. It’s especially fun if one dreams that Thorne may — as intelligent, introspective persons sometimes do — completely change his modus operandi upon catching a ball in the low post.

It’s a turnover waiting to happen, I wrote at the beginning of the year. (Oh, I didn’t? Well, it was something like that anyhow.)

ABOUT THAT COMEBACK FROM 20+ DOWN

When the Illini cut Indiana’s lead to 12, the Hoosiers went on a 10-0 run.

Then Illinois cut the lead to nine.

And then, John Groce made the Bruce Weberest decision of an already thoroughly Bruce Weberish career, calling timeout as Te’Jon ran the ball toward Indiana’s (admittedly well-defended) bucket.

On the subsequent (surely much intellectualized) inbound play, Te’Jon turned the ball over.

Erstwhile Urbana High School varsity coach Vashoune Russell had an opinion about this sequence of events. (Vashoune took pictures of the game with some really expensive cameras. It was almost worth the $64 I put in his gas tank. Holy shit those GMC Suburbans.)

Vashoune couldn’t understand why Groce thought he could get away with the same inbound play twice in a game versus a well-coached team.

ELSEWHERE IN WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

Jordan Caroline made an unofficial visit to Illinois is 2012. As far as I know, that was the extent of his recruitment. He signed with SIUC,  made the MVC all-freshmen team and transferred to Nevada.

If, after Illinois’s second stab at persistence cut the lead to 9 on Saturday, you decided you’d like to see a team come back from 20+ down to win a game, you’re in luck. No TV subscription required. If you have an internet connection (which you do) you can watch the replay at ESPN3. Here it is.

Caroline is the grandson of an Illini/NFL legend. He was sired by another Illini legend, who also played in the NFL.

But Jordan clearly, distinctly put his own stamp on all-time legend status with a single game. 45 points & 13 rebounds is not all-time material, but recovering from a 14-point deficit with a minute to go is all-time anything. That was Saturday’s astonishing performance at New Mexico.

If you want to relive the magical 15-0 start of Saturday’s Hoosiers fiasco, you can watch that too. How often will you get the chance to see Illinois’ best player collect a third foul before the team has scored a single point?

PLAYING NICE

Coaches on the Hot Seat sometimes recognize that Being Friendly will serve them better than Being A Dick, or isolating themselves.

After his regular (i.e. B1G mandated) time with the media Saturday, Tom Crean made a beeline toward the Illini media pool, all assigned to workstations in the far corner of the media room.

“Does Chicago need anything else?” he asked, perhaps oblivious to the slight, and perhaps recognizing that Shannon Ryan was the only reporter in the pool whose audience should concern him.

No one needed anything else. Vashoune and I shook his hand, thanked him for the offer, and congratulated him on the win.

Kipper NIchols dives to the floor for a loose ball (Vashoune Russell)

Crean left the room, but engaged a pair of TV reporters (and their cameras) in the tunnel outside. Meanwhile, Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner and Derek Piper joined Indiana’s Scout correspondent Jeff Rabjohns in a discussion, in the media room.

At some point, Crean re-entered the room. He engaged an Indiana beat writer in a long discussion. It’s the first time I’ve seen a B1G coach hang out in a media room after exhausting his official duties.

After a long talk, Crean again walked to the other side of the room, toward the Illini pool. “Is Jeremy Werner here?” he asked.

By this time, Jeremy and Derek had returned to the court, to record their usual postgame video commentary.

“He was,” we responded.

Crean gushed about Jeremy’s statistical analysis. He said he’d read it earlier in the week, and “actually learned something from it.”

A lot of coaches pretend they don’t read their press clippings. Some coaches don’t seem capable of reading. So it might feel rewarding to know that a coach not only reads, but learns from ones writing.

I emailed Jeremy to tell him about the query, and also to ask WTF column Crean was foaming about. It was Jeremy’s Rapid Recap of the tOSU game, according to Jeremy, who also observed that the column was “nothing special.”

John Groce also stayed in the visitor’s media room for a few extra moments, and made small talk at Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan. Then he moved to the tunnel to allow Louie del Rio and Bret Beherns a better opportunity to frame him with their cameras. (The IU visitor’s “media room” is a secretary’s office, and it’s tiny.)

Groce is no idiot. A week after dissing Bret’s softball about disgruntled fans, he offered himself to his most important conduit. WCIA has the largest local TV audience.

Leron Black rebounds at Indiana (Vashoune Russell)

Ryan reaches the largest number of Illini fans, in theory. That is, the Trib has a huge subscriber base, most of which lives in Illinois. Nobody necessarily reads Shannon’s columns, if they can be bothered to comb through the sports section, past all the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Notre Dame, Marathon, etc. coverage.

Tracy Abrams takes a ball screen from Mike Thorne Jr. (Vashoune Russell)

Groce reserves all his inside information for CBS Sport’s Jon Rothstein, but it behooves him to make nice with those media members who can access a national audience. The Tribune company publishes the Los Angeles Times, too. And the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Sun-Sentinel. On a slow day, any of those papers might run an article by any of the Tribune company’s reporters.

The pleasantries lasted only a moment. By comparison, you can see why Tom Crean has won two B1G Championships.

Jalen Coleman-Lands launches a three over Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr.

But in fairness to Groce, he’s been on the hot seat for only about three years. Crean has been on the hot seat since the day he was hired. But as we’re all interested in the success of Illini sports, let’s all keep an eye on Groce’s interactions with the media.

Bret’s question was only the beginning of a Pandora’s Box, Groce should do everything in his power to keep that box from opening. Unfortunately for him, five years of inaccessibility hampered that possibility. All the reporters he’s marginalized will have a column ready, whether they publish it after the Michigan game, after the Maryland game, after the Purdue game …

Is it fair and/or ethical to criticize Groce for not buttering the media? Yes and no. Everything keeps changing. Newspapers gave way to web content, etc.

But the fact is that Groce does butter the media, just not anyone local.  Take that as you will.

Meanwhile, Loren Tate is still good friends with Lou Henson.