While the University of Illinois community has grudgingly learned to live with mediocre-or-worse Illini football, they will never, under any circumstances, accept inferior Illini basketball.
For all athletic programs residing under the power five conference banner, football comes first and foremost, due to the financial stakes involved. For many schools however, men’s basketball is number one among hearts and minds. Illinois is one of those institutions.
While football rules the fiscal landscape of college athletics, Illini basketball is the unquestioned brand identity program for UI athletics.
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) January 21, 2017
Now is the time for Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman to step up to the plate and redefine Illinois athletics, because right now, it’s a house on fire. Whitman made his bold, proactive move with football in March of 2016, now he needs to assert himself again, on the basketball side, this March.
It is chance for Whitman to define his legacy.
Unfortunately, his predecessor Mike Thomas has certainly left behind a legacy of his own, and it’s a dire one of pure carnage.
To his credit, Thomas succeeded quite well in fund-raising, forging/maintaining corporate partnerships, and upgrading facilities. He did an amazing job bringing Assembly Hall into the future.
Of course, what good is a state-of-the-art facility if the team it houses is 13th out of 14 in the B1G?
No matter how elite your packaging, if the product inside is horrendous, why should anyone consume it?
It was a poorly kept secret that no revenue sport head coaching candidate of top tier quality wanted to work for Thomas, and thus UI ended up with Tim Beckman and John Groce, two disaster hires.
Thomas made two acquisitions that destroyed both programs, and it’s going to take a very long while before either truly recover.
The problems were all compounded by the fact that Thomas, Beckman and now Groce too all long overstayed their welcome. Had the University realized how deep the degradations truly were, Illini football and Illini basketball would not have fallen as far off the map as they are today.
Had leadership realized their mistakes sooner, and acted on remedying it, the hole that Whitman has to now dig out of wouldn’t be so deep.
Still, it’s never too late to do the right thing, whether that’s in midseason, or the same day Illini basketball is eliminated from the B1G Tournament. The ineptitude under Groce has reached staggering depths
Illini Basketball By the Numbers Under Groce
Groce’s overall winning percentage at Illinois (.563) is now lower than Lou Henson’s winning percentage in B1G games only (.566). That statistic courtesy of @Frustrated_Fan who also gave us this fact below:
The last players to play 4 years for the #Illini w/o playing in the NCAA Tournament: Neil Bresnahan, Levi Cobb, & Rob Judson (class of 1980)
— The Frustrated Fan (@Frustrated_Fan) January 21, 2017
That’s right, barring a complete 180 in road form (Illinois is 0-4 with a -73 point differential on the road this season, they have been down by 20+ in the second half of every road game this season) the Illini will miss the tournament for the fourth consecutive year..
No class of seniors has missed the tournament every single year since 1980. Groce’s Illini have already missed the NCAA three straight years, something that hasn’t happened since 1978-1980.
From 2003-2006, Illinois won more total games than any program in the entire nation, going 114-22 (.838 win percentage) over that span.
Not the B1G, the entire nation, as for one brief shining moment there was Camelot.
In the midst of his fifth year on the job, Groce is 89-69 overall, with a mark of 10-27 (.217 winning percentage) in January. He’s 31-48 (.468) in league play, with five more road league games left to create more carnage before 2017 is all said and done.
In the 23 seasons before Groce arrived, the #Illini lost five games by 25+ points. In the last 48 games they have lost seven by 25+.
— Bob Markunas (@IlliniBob72) December 28, 2016
The Recruiting Question: Past is Prologue
Groce lost many of his last remaining proponents with his thin-skinned, condescending “goodness, gracious” response to a reporter’s very open-ended question on December 27th following a 84-59 loss at Maryland, but the few remaining supporters he still has point to next year’s incoming recruiting class ranking.
The class is rated tops in the B1G and nationally No. 8 by Scout, No. 9 by ESPN and No. 10 by 247Sports. While that sounds exciting and should be cause for optimism, let’s take a look at the talent already on the Illini basketball roster, a team that’s next to dead last in the B1G:
It’s also worth nothing that last year’s team, which tied a school record for single season losses with 19, also had Kendrick Nunn (#52 Scout) . Thus both this year’s team and last year’s squad had six top 100 rated players on the roster.
You already know the results, in spite of all the talent that was accrued. While next year’s class will have slightly higher recruiting rankings, Illini basketball will still not be represented in the McDonald’s All-American Game for the seventh year in a row.
There’s no reason to think that Groce’s results will be much better next season. He’s already had talent, and failed with it.
The case for retaining John Groce as Illini basketball coach is like the case for denying the existence of climate change. Some people will believe whatever they want, in spite of overwhelming observational, empirical and numerical data.
The recorded results speak for themselves.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, Bold and the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye publication, appears regularly as a guest on CGTN America, WGN CLTV News and KOZN 1620 The Zone.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks