Smile Politely

The Sands of Time

John Groce’s opening statement lasted :37 seconds. He didn’t mince words.

Illinois was great in the first half, and unprepared for what hit them in the second half. Michigan State opened the second with a 14 point run, and the game was over.

Those calling for more Myke Henry, more Joe Bertrand, less Tyler Griffey, less Brandon Paul: You were all pleased by Thursday’s game. Tyler got ten minutes, and took only one shot.

Brandon played only 24 minutes. Groce wasn’t pleased with his defensive effort. Myke got 21. Groce was pleased with his effort.

Groce was pleased with Joe’s effort, and specifically praised Joe for rising to some sort of challenge about making an effort.

Is this the beginning of a Youth Movement? Will Groce shift his focus to next year? It’s not a bad idea. For one thing, the new guys seem more productive.

Or was Thursday just message-sending? A Brandon, get with the program kinda message perhaps?

Brandon was pretty effective on offense. He hit half his shots (5-of-10, including 2-of-6 from the arc). He did dribble the ball off his leg on one drive, but he caught it again, and stuck Derrick Nix with a reaching foul in the process. He turned it over three times, and assisted three times.

But Brandon must become superman, and soon, or it will be Youth Movement time. With eleven guaranteed games remaining in his college career (one-third of the season), each of Brandon Paul’s field goal attempts is now worth … $50,000? Or is it $500,000?

Playing himself back into the draft is worth a lot of money. His early season heroics nearly put him in. Since then, he’s played himself out.

Last year at this time, Shareef Abdur-Raheem started following Illinois basketball around the Midwest. If his fellow NBA scouts resume their vigil at Illini games, it’s Brandon they’d be watching. But will they return?

If he makes shots at a high rate; if he uses the backboard effectively; if he leads his team to some surprise wins and squeezes Illinois into the NCAA Tournament; if he demonstrates body control; if he quits mugging for whistles; if, in a nutshell, he showcases all the good Brandon Paul, and plays to his potential; Brandon can still cash the million dollar checks.  To finish his career with the same mind-boggling inconsistency that’s been its theme for three and a half years could cost Brandon tens of millions of dollars.


Illinois was effective-ish from three-point range (9-of-25). They again shot slightly better than 50% from inside the arc. But a lot of those shots were put-backs, or exploitations of a stretched defense. Scouting Illinois tells opponents to pressure the perimeter. So if the Illini stopped shooting threes, open paths to the rim would disappear.

MSU hit 14-of-16 shots in the second half. That’s not an astounding number considering the quantity of lay-ups involved. Groce bemoaned the “88-percent” clip, but it was the obvious result of an aggressive defensive strategy that nearly worked. After watching the Spartans pick-n-roll for fourteen straight points, Groce implemented a hard-switching high-post defense, risking backdoor cuts (he got ’em). He directed Illinois to a 2-3 zone for a possession, re-opening the perimeter (and boom! went the three-pointer).

In short, Groce is still trying to win games. But he’s still open to new ideas.

Who will get the bulk of the minutes in the B1G tourney? We’ll probably know in about two weeks.


During a media timeout, the public address guy announced the presence of two MSU letter winners. “National champion Andre Hutson” earned a tepid response from the Izzone. Those same kids went nuts when Drew Neitzel was announced seconds later.

I guess they stopped teaching history at MSU. Or perhaps, as Bill Maher pointed out, the kids today cannot be bothered with anything that’s not about them.

(Kelvin Torbert didn’t even get recognized by the PA guy! But Smile Politely still loves him.)

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