Smile Politely

Bennett ball?

If John Groce hopes to keep our attention, he’ll appreciate the value of your entertainment dollar. i.e. he’ll keep you guessing. You will not know, as a matter of routine, what’s about to happen on a basketball court.

We made fun of Bruce Weber, in 2007 when he said “we haven’t even started practicing offense.” As the next few years unfolded, “fun” disappeared from our working vocabulary. “Not practicing offense” wasn’t a punchline, it was a pandemic. We all knew what would happen on the court. Weber’s teams were so easy to scout, it was like a mini-vacation for B1G assistants.

An obsession with defense is not exclusive to Weber. Far from it. Since Bobby Knight swooped into Bloomington, Big Ten coaches have muddied play, and bloodied courts. When Lou Henson arrived in Champaign four years later, he said he’d concentrate on defense. When Lon Kruger replaced Henson, 21 years after that, he too said he’d focus on defense.

Basketball coaches salivate over good defense.

Some fans enjoy it as well. There’s always a portion of a fanbase that likes watching a pitcher’s duel. But most spectators prefer home runs.

You and I, and this Illini team love John Groce because he gives us what we want to see on a basketball court. It’s audacious. It’s violent.

Frankly, it’s offensive.

Yes! That’s what we like to see! OFFENSE. Penetrating, passing, fast-breaking and attacking. Active hands.

It’s thrilling.

Over the past eight games, the team reverted. An obsession with defense now determines everything, from the starting line-up to the final score.

So far, it’s worked.

Defense can be thrilling even to the masses. If our lads hold an opponent to no points for 30% of the game, we become downright excited about defense.

So everybody loves John Groce, and we’re happy in Illini Nation.

For the record, Sunday’s offensive execution was shitty. In the first half, Illini missed numerous attempts under the basket. The guards chose bad angles. The bigs hurried their shots, even Sam McLaurin.

Would-be junior Jereme Richmond (who was sentenced to jail time this week) could have helped. He was exceptional at waiting for interior defenses to panic.

In the second half, up thirty, the Illini got lazy. Steely-eyed turned to smirking. Aggression lapsed to Harlem Globetrotters showmanship.

Our lads were showing off. They were having fun. And maybe they deserved it. I know my old coaches would have us running extra laps.

For the game, Illinois managed only 53% on free throws, and 6-of-20 from the arc.

But bad execution is different from bad offense. Whatever we saw Sunday at Evanston, it was not dull. It was not predictable. Some of the deep penetration and kick-outs will be readily scouted by B1G assistants. Teams will, as Northwestern did, successfully defend Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul’s mid-air hijinx. So John Groce will need to develop a few more offensive strategies.

But it’s fun to watch. I don’t remember the last time an Illini team suffered two different three-game losing streaks and still manged to retain my interest.

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