I’m open-minded about new experiences, but if there’s a weirder Illini game this season, I hope it looks better than the slopfest versus American University.
The Illini committed 14 turnovers, including a pair of passes to nobody at all, and some other passes where no Illini was in the vicinity.
Kendrick Nunn appeared tentative and mistake-prone. That’s weird. Rayvonte Rice connected on 1-of-7 field goal attempts. That’s bizarre.
The Illini used this game to try a number of new dead ball sets, both on offense and defense. The inbounds plays, John Groce said, were implemented to counter American’s style of play, and not because it’s that time of year when the team is ready to learn some new plays.
That might be true. But Groce is leery of opponents scouting his public comments as well as his practices, and game videos. He also rejected the idea that a full-court zone press was “new” to this year’s team. But he called for it in new situations, e.g. before halftime, and with a lead.
So it could be that now, after the team has put its challenging pre-season traveling schedule behind themselves, Groce feels comfortable asking the team to employ some sets that future opponents, such as the Villanova Wildcats for example, have not seen. Or maybe he wants the Villanova coaching staff to panic, horrified to learn that, with three days to go, Illinois’ most easily scouted plays have been replaced by new sets.
Mind games. Who doesn’t love ’em?
Groce was a little edgy and short in his postgame press conference, perhaps because he had an atypical third postgame media responsibility, an exclusive with Ryan Baker for CBS Chicago. Maybe that’s why no one asked him about Illinois’ 5-for-12 performance from three-point range. That’s not many attempts for this Illini team. It’s also a low number given the opponent.
But it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which, after the 23% performance at Miami, Groce encouraged his guys to look for more opportunities inside the arc. The two guys who weren’t the leading scorer but were fingered for postgame meet-the-media responsibilities just happened to be the least likely on the team to jack a shot from distance.
Groce called for “reinforcements” leading up to the game’s first media time-out. Having spent the last 10 days repeatedly citing Nick Saban’s postgame comments from the Iron Bowl, he’s now borrowing from the John Calipari playbook.
Calipari, as everyone knows, decided to play two platoons, rather than concede that any of his million dollar babies is not a starter. Groce usually (not always) sends four fresh bodies at the first time out, leaving only Ray in the game.
Illini players got a kick out of the terminology. “Did he just say ‘reinforcements?'” They too are aware of John Calipari.
Illinois players connected on their first 18 free throw attempts. When Jaylon Tate finally missed in the game’s closing minutes, the entire SFC crowd groaned. It’s nice to know that our fans pay close attention, and know what’s going on in a game.
Jan the Usher, my number one source, says SFC’s two 200-level (C Tier) sections of unsold seats is construction related, not a barometer of fan interest. It’s to do with access to an exit, currently blocked. In other words, fire marshal stuff. The plan is to have the entire 200-;level open when MAryland comes to town, to open B1G play.