As Brian Barnhart awaited John Groce’s return from the locker room, the Illini Radio Network’s play-by-play man found himself reading through any and all available scripts lying about him. He needed to keep talking. That’s how live radio works.
Barnhart's last major duty before wrap-up is the postgame interview with the head coach. But the head coach was taking an extra long time to say something to his team. We'll probably never know just what it was.
Down in the State Farm Center’s subterranean Media Room, we listened to the live feed. We don’t get our turn with Groce until he’s fulfilled his radio obligations.
Barnhart repeated the news about Iowa’s win over Tim Floyd and UTEP, and Purdue’s loss to Ken Bone and Washington State. He told us again that the Illini women had beaten Arkansas State.
Finally, Groce returned from the locker room. He quoted Will Rogers.
This was another Tennessee State, or Miami of Ohio. And yet, there are two big differences between Friday night’s game and those abysmal losses from the 2008 season—the season after which Bruce Weber should have been fired.
- IPFW is pretty good at basketball.
- Illinois won.
Luis Jacobo looks like a pro player. He’s got the body, and the footwork. He sees the floor on defense. His shot looks pretty.
Steve Forbes weighs twice as much as most opponents. He has a smooth touch at the rim, and fifteen feet away from it. His defensive positioning (and enormous bulk) cuts off driving and passing lanes.
John Groce charitably described Forbes as weighing “nearly 300 lbs.” But there’s no way Forbes is that svelte. The Mastodons' media guide did not list players’ weights, only heights. If you’re 5’11’’ and as big around as Forbes. you’re already pushing 270. Steve is listed at 6’9” so I assume he’s closing in on 400.
But size isn’t important. It’s how you use it.
Forbes owned this game.
You can blame Nnanna Egwu if you like, but in most games throughout his career, Nnanna will be well served by not carrying an extra hundred pounds on his frame. This time, it was disadvantageous.
You can blame John Groce for consecutive games with heart-pounding finishes, both against teams who seem to lose a lot. Groce blamed himself after the UNLV game, but shared a little blame with the players after IPFW. In his postgame presser, he said he was disappointed by their practice effort, which was “just OK.”
He said the same thing about Friday’s first half. But he quickly returned to his more typical positive-reinforcement method, heartily slapping Tracy Abrams on the back three times and commending the team for its second half effort.
I don’t really feel like blaming anyone. I’m still slightly jet-lagged myself. The Vegas trip was a bitch. Groce said the team stayed on central time, but that means they played a game at 9:45 p.m., just like you watched it. No wonder they were groggy.
They were tired at UNLV, too. You could see it in all the missed lay-ups.
I suppose the experts will still predict a lot of losses this year, perhaps an NIT. But I’m pretty impressed by the will to win. There are elements within this team. They have a sense of purpose.
But remember what Brian Barnhart said about Iowa and Purdue. At the time, he was just repeating some scores he’d read, trying to kill time. But it was worth hearing those scores a few times, because it told more than just today’s news.
It’s a crossroads, an epoch.
<span 0.875em;="" line-height:="" 1.357;"="">Iowa is getting better. They have a good coach. Recruiting improved.
Purdue is getting worse. Their coach survived a scandal, and a power play for a new contract; and those two factors combined promise a lengthy decline into oblivion that will be almost as fun to watch as the next few years of Illini basketball.