Smile Politely

The way the ball bounces

John Groce and Matt Painter both colorfully identified “rebounds” as the single difference-maker in Purdue’s 66-58 win over Illinois.

But that’s because they’re basketball coaches. Basketball coaches love rebounding.

Illinois lost because it missed the front end on each of its 1-and-1 opportunities. Illinois lost because loose balls bounced away from guys in white, and toward guys in black. Illinois lost because Jay Simpson and A.J. Hammonds decided to work off a few pounds in the off-season.

Illinois lost because Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice were both dealing with nagging injuries, right when Purdue decided to go big, and clog the lane with bodies.

So here we are again, desperate in January.

Last year’s 2-and-7 conference start led, eventually, to a #7 seed. But who’s going to be our Sam McLaurin this year? Our center gets pushed around, habitually. Our point guard made an unconscionable mid-air pass — directly to an opponent positioned behind him — in crunch time.

The Illini lost because the officiating crew allowed Purdue to play aggressive defense, despite the NCAA’s mandate against it.

When the new hand-checking rule was announced this summer, John Groce and the Illini basketball staff took a studied approach to changing the way they coach defense.

Matt Painter said fuck it, we’re going to keep mugging people.

Wednesday night, Painter was rewarded for ignoring the rule of law.

Whether it’s the Big Ten that’s responsible (it is) or the NCAA, disregard for your own laws & policies is a terrible, terrible way to run any type of government.

The Illini staff knew it was coming. In his pre-game press conference, Groce said it’s just my opinion, but they’re not calling it the same way they did in November and December. That’s just my opinion. Again, it’s just my opinion. but that’s what I think. And that’s only my opinion or something along those lines.

When I called Paris Parham for a radio scout on Tuesday night, I asked him about the new rule vis–à–vis Purdue. He almost chuckled.

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After instilling the tendency in their players over a period of months — and never being quite sure which referees are going to penalize which behaviors — there’s little opportunity for adjusting to circumstances. So the Illini coaches watched, helplessly, as Purdue kicked, grabbed and held its way to victory on Wednesday.

If this game were played in the ACC, the Illini would have won by ten, except that they couldn’t seem to hit any free-throws.

Perhaps we should take solace from the fact that Gene Steratore chose to call fouls where no contact occurred at all.

Already this year, three close games hinged on Tracy Abrams decision to drive the lane. With :06 remaining and Illinois down five at Oregon, Tracy looked for a foul call, and didn’t get it.

Turnover: Abrams. Oregon wins.

With :05 remaining and Illinois down one against Missouri, Tracy looked for a foul call, and got it.

Free throws: Abrams. Illinois wins.

With 1:10 remaining and Illinois down five against Purdue, Abrams again drove the lane. This time he spun mid-air and passed the ball back toward the arc.

There was no one there, except Purdue’s Errick Peck.

Turnover: Abrams. Purdue wins.

You want Tracy Abrams to attack the goal with a reckless abandon. But what you really want is for Tracy Abrams to attack the goal with a controlled abandon. Or maybe it’s a reckless concentration.

Is it possible to make Tracy see the floor better than he does? Is it possible to rein in some of his wildness, while still benefitting from his willfulness?

Given the performance bonuses written in to Illini coaching contracts, it’s worth about $100,000 for John Groce, Jamall Walker, Dustin Ford and Paris Parham to figure that out. All of them are point guards, except for Abrams. They have about eight weeks to mold him into one.

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