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January 9, 2014

Illini get a reality check at the Kohl Center




Although the Illini weren't expected to beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center, the 95-70 loss to the Badgers may be one that gives fans a reality check as to where the program currently stands. They are much further from the top than most envisioned heading into the season. When prognostications set Illinois as the 9th best team in the league, many cried foul, but this team showed on Wednesday they aren't quite ready for prime time just yet.

With three potentially important contributors watching from the sidelines is still a year away from playing, and five freshmen waiting to make a leap, there's no doubt that this team is going to get a lot better next year. And this is still a team that, if they get hot, can pull an upset at Assembly Hall. But the schedule down the stretch isn't kind.

John Groce just has a longer rebuild job than many envisioned, or hoped.


Defensive struggle

Although Wisconsin is a very good team and will probably win the Big Ten just based on the schedule they got from the league. However, the inability of Illinois to put up any resistance, especially in the paint, is concerning. Groce called his post defense pathetic after the game, and he wasn't just talking about the bigs. The guards were also abused. With the way that Wisconsin shoots the ball from the perimeter, Illinois chose to play one on one in the post. That allowed Wisconsin to score it well inside, shooting 63% on 2 pointers, with an abundance of natural three point plays, but the problem was that they also shot 8-19 from 3. Illinois didn't take away anything from the Badgers, inside or outside.

It makes sense to attempt and take away the three pointer from Wisconsin, but if you don't take it away, and you still allow them free reign inside, that's a bad combination.


Where is Egwu?

There is no player that works harder than Nnanna Egwu. Illinois puts bands on their players to see who is giving the best effort by using heart rate monitors, and Egwu blows everyone away. That said, his production has been declining. He hasn't made 50% of his field goals since the Oregon game, when he took just 3 shots. He hasn't hit double figures since the Dartmouth game, and has scored 10 or more just twice in the past 12 games.

Essentially, he hasn't made the improvement he needed to for the Illini up front. Looking at his numbers, if you deduct the turnovers from his freshman year and throw in a few 3 pointers, he's the same player. Blocks, shooting percentage, rebounding percentage, etc. are all very similar. In 20 Big Ten games a year ago he hit double figures 3 times, so 4 consecutive 10 point games to start the season showed promise. However, right now he is over thinking things, trying to figure out what to do when he receives the ball instead of reacting. Sometimes, when you try and learn too much, you over think everything and become slow and robotic. When you are already a bit mechanical that isn't a good thing.

The key for Egwu moving forward is to just go play and let happen what happens. Allow your instincts to take over and just play. At this point, it can't go much worse on the offensive end.


Second half offense shows promise

After a poor first half, the Illini looked better on offense in the second half, scoring 45 points. They pushed the ball, attacking before the defense as set. They had more player movement and ball movement. They showed some wrinkles where they posted guards such as Rice. That's a positive moving forward, so you hope that they can build on that in their next two games.

There were just 33 second half possessions, and Illinois scored 45 points. That's a crazy offensive number for them, especially considering they still hit just 15-42 and 2-7 from 3.


Notable

*We called this game 'house money' prior to the game, and it really was, but the performance was a bit unsettling. However, the next two games, at Northwestern and home against Purdue, are much more important. Last year after getting hammered in Madison, Illinois came home and lost by 14 to the Wildcats. They have to bounce back quicker this time, as the schedule makers were not kind to them down the stretch.

*Quietly, a solid game from Joe Bertrand on offense. Defensively, he really struggled to guard Dekker, however. Of course, so did everyone else.

*Loved the offensive rebounds, and it was the highest offensive rebounding number against Wisconsin since they played Florida on the road early on a year ago. That said, Illinois was unable to finish many of their put back attempts.

*All in all, the Illini missed 8 virtually uncontested layups. That's 16 points left out there. They don't win if they make those, but the score and game looks a lot different.

*For the game, Illinois scored 0.98 PPP, and Wisconsin was at 1.33 PPP.


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