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.