Smile Politely

The Ghost of 2006

Tuesday’s choke job at Georgia Tech, the worst loss of the John Groce era, succinctly exemplified everything The Doubters said about this team from the beginning.

Ray Rice scored 24 points, but got lost in the forest of Tall Trees in crunch time.

Tracy Abrams’ 2:3 assist-to-turnover ratio accounts neither for the passes he didn’t see, nor the fumbles that didn’t alter possession. Those are his point guards stats. As a shooting guard, he was 1-of-7 from the floor.

Joe Bertrand had another quiet 10 & 6. I find it hard to complain about Joe Bertrand, but 12 & 8 would have sealed a win.

With about 15:40 remaining in the game, Joe cut along the baseline as Tracy watched from the top of the key. Joe’s intention was lob slam. Tracy couldn’t find the handle, or chose not to lob. Eventually he fired a three-pointer, and missed.

A team of nice guys finished last. It reminds me of the 2010 Illini.

Ray Rice needs help from one other guy. Just one. Someone who, like Ray, will perpetrate acts of violence on opponents. Kendrick Nunn has that personality. He looked OK in his ten minutes of action.

Jaylon Tate was outstanding, again, in his 14 minutes of floor time. There must be something Groce doesn’t trust about Jaylon’s defense, because after dishing five assists and committing no turnover; Jaylon watched from the bench as Illinois squandered a twelve point lead, late in the second half, to an AWFUL Georgia Tech team.

Even this Georgia Tech team thinks this Georgia Tech team is awful. I could tell by the questions their media pool asked. I could tell by the answers their players gave. These guys don’t care about winning all that much, and they have little experience with it.

Their fans also don’t care.

Northwestern in Champaign was the Groce-era beatdown that most people identify as “the worst.” I didn’t think so at the time, and still don’t. That was a good offensive team that hit a bunch of its shots, and established a lead (and some confidence).

This was a team that shot poorly, played without body language, and waited around for the other team to suck worse.

Robert Carter Jr. has a soft touch for a big man. But while he hit 2-of-4 from the arc, he spent most of his high-post time looking confused, and verging on 5-second turnovers. Chris Bolden was 1-of-8 from the field, and Trae Golden 0-for-5.

As I read through apocalyptic message boards posts about Illinois basketball from April 29, 2012 through today, I found no cause for alarm.

I was waiting for a worst.

I don’t mean to imply that I was hoping for one. That’s not true. But in order to maintain some credibility within my Weber sucks-Groce gets it-Ray Rice is some sort of demi-god oeuvre; I still feel a nagging urge to say hey, that flat out sucked, where appropriate.

Tuesday night in Atlanta, John Groce did not give his team their best chance to win.

I get that it’s hard to balance personnel for their offense and defense, their rebounding versus their shooting percentage. If Tracy isn’t getting it done at the point, do you take him out? Do you move him to the 2 and take Ray out? Joe’s having a good game, do you take him out? Ekey leads in rebounds. Nnanna seems to be pushing Daniel Miller across the lane, when he asserts himself. Who do you take out?

The answer is Tracy or Nnanna. Either one, and take your pick. One is having an off-night, the other’s removal creates a speed imbalance.

Ryan Pedon is the guy that might have (in theory, and actually might have, in reality) volunteered some statistical advice as Illinois choked. John Groce chose the veterans, and he died by the sword.

Georgia Tech may prove to be a somewhat OK-ish basketball team. Their three losses include Ole Miss (which is undefeated, and about to beat Bruce Weber’s KSU team) and St. John’s (whose only losses are B1G powerhouses Wisconsin and Penn State—don’t laugh, you’re an Illini fan).

It doesn’t matter. Illinois had them on the ropes, and The Ramblin’ Wreck was ready to give up, again.

The Illini collectively dribbled the coup de grâce off its own foot.

Those shot clock violations, the multiple desperation heaves; they reminded you of Dee Brown trying to run Bruce Weber’s “offense” without the benefit of Deron Williams. The rest of the game probably seemed more like 2007, in which Illinois scores 58 points and then turns off the offense.

John Groce was coaching at Ohio State in 2007. That Buckeye team turned over the offense to a bunch of freshmen. They did all right.

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