Smile Politely


Hindsight got its comeuppance Tuesday night.

The Illini tested a couple of popular theories — as proposed by frustrated fans — and disproved them.

Fans said Joe Bertrand needs to be more aggressive. Joe needs to take more shots. Joe was more aggressive. He took more shots, and missed all his short jumpers in crunch time.

Monday Morning Quarterbacks hollered for the freshmen. John Groce played four freshmen at the same time (with Joe), and Wisconsin immediately went on a mini-scoring binge.

Wisconsin played cat & mouse for 35 minutes, and then got bored, nailed a trio of threes, and went to find a warm motel. If schadenfreude is your thing, you’ll be happy to know that the Badgers were stuck in Champaign, the worst town in the Big Ten (by current rankings, and some polls).

Further analysis of this game, and of this team, is available on the internet. For example, Dan O’Brien of Illinois Loyalty managed to sum it up in a single .gif:

So I don’t see much need. But I do want to know what larue33 thinks about John Groce.

It’s year two of the Groce Administration. Illinois is twelfth in the Big Ten, looking up at Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska. Does that mean John Groce suxks?

In February of 2005, Illinois had not lost eight in a row. In fact, they hadn’t lost. Does that mean Bruce Weber was a genius?

larue33 is the guy who sussed Bruce Weber in 2005, and smelled rot.

The number of people who decried Bruce Weber in 2005 can be counted on one finger. He’s a fifty-something computer programmer. He lives in Champaign, and he’s held season tickets to Illini basketball  for 43 years. (IIRC, all this is public knowledge to those who read every single line of text, on every single Illini-oriented web page, every day. I also know his actual name, but I’ll reserve that.) If larue33 is concerned about John Groce, then the rest of the Illini basketball world should be worried about John Groce.

So I emailed him. He responded:

I think Groce will do well here, based on the assumption that he’s going to land very good talent. He seems to be an excellent leader, I like his aggressive approach on offense. I’d prefer a more aggressive style of defense, but what he does seems to work well enough. I’d like to have seen more adjustments on offense earlier in this season, but I don’t think anything could make this group consistently good on that end of the floor.

He seems to rank somewhere between Weber and Self in terms flexibility of approach, but those two represent the extremes, so that’s probably not saying much. I wish he leaned more toward Self in that regard. It’s hard to judge as a fan how good a coach is at X and O and in game adjustments, I think he’s average at best. I also think that’s the least important aspect of the job, and maybe the one most likely to improve over time.

It took me an extra five years to recognize Bruce Weber for what he is. In hindsight, we all should have known by 2006, when we spent the entire conference season watching Dee Brown dribble.

I might need the same time to figure John Groce.

I see the same warning signs now that I saw in 2006 (a stunted, predictable offense which opponents easily & hungrily stifle).  But Groce is operating with a roster assembled largely by  Bruce Weber.

On Tuesday, as Tracy Abrams drove the lane and launched a ball which went over the backboard, Groce’s shoulders sagged. “Tracy,” he called plaintively, “shoot the three.”

That seemed like the more logical option, considering the hole Illinois was in. In this case, it’s nice to know that Illini players weren’t doing what their coach wanted.

There are probably other ways in which Groce is different from Weber. For example, I don’t think Groce is a sociopath. So that’s good

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