Why do the Illini have so Little Fight on the Road?

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ready for the dance illini

Following yet another disappointing road loss at Northwestern, Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber talked about what he’s tried to fix their 1-4 in conference play road woes.

“We tried lineup changes, they all want to start, but step up and be a starter, make the plays. Billy (Cole) said it, we got to start the game with shutouts, we got to be determined, we can’t let a team, especially on the road, just jump on us,” he said of his woefully under-achieving Illini team.

It would help if the senior class started living up to their potential, but it was sophomore, Brandon Paul, who gave the media a soundbite Illini Nation would like to hear.

“It’s tough, we keep talking about the same thing, and people get mad, people talk about it, but actions speak louder than words, we got to do something about it,” Paul said.

Very true. It’s Groundhog Day, just like Weber said last Saturday, as the team keeps repeating the same mistakes all over again. Had they bothered to show up for the first 5 minutes of the games at Penn State, Indiana and Northwestern, they easily would have won all three. The final margin of defeat was so small that had Illinois not utterly sleep-walked out of the gate they could be 8-2 instead of 5-5 in Big Ten play right now.

By Paul M. Banks

groundhog-day

This road loss was especially troublesome for Illinois, as it came just outside Chicago (the biggest non-Champaign stronghold in Illini Nation) in front of a crowd that was mostly supporting them.

“We tried to treat this one like a home game. We had a lot of fans come out here and support us, so we tried to tell ourselves we’re playing at Assembly Hall- don’t worry about the other people in the crowd,” BP said.

But the mentality didn’t work, as the Illini choked at Welsh-Ryan Arena, a place where they were 9-2 in their last 11 heading in.

This article from SB Nation’s Hail to the Orange chronicles the specifics of the road woes quite well:

The Illini have lost every road game since Iowa, and have been held below their season scoring average in every game. Its no coincidence we have also caught every team in absolute desperation mode, where the teams have absolutely needed a win to keep their season from going completely off the rails, we have caught teams on their biggest promoted home games of the year, and are viewed as a big enough name to rush the court on, but a vulnerable enough opponent to have it happen to us three times…

…knowing the Illini and their road opponents, the Northwestern zone, which was shredded to ribbons just a few weeks ago, will have some new wrinkle that completely perplexes the team, and the Illini will struggle to put ball through hoop for the first five minutes or so of the game, allowing the Wildcats uncanny three point shooting to heat up and take an early 7 to 12 point lead.

We will all be “surprised” at an Illini road upset, when the Illini lose a 60-56 game, which at many points in the game could have been a win for Illinois, but were wasted by costly turnovers and poorly executed offensive sets.

This is a worst case scenario that has taken place three times already this season. I am tired of watching this game. This team needs to break the cycle.

It’s EERIE how much he nailed it with that prediction, isn’t it?

It’s also rather frightening when you consider what the Illini have in front of them tonight. A team in a desperate state on their home floor? Sounds EXACTLY like what they’ll have Thursday in Minnesota. The Gophers have lost three in a row and are missing their top two ball-handlers. They’ve fallen to 5-6 in conference, and need a win to stop from coming apart at the seams.

This is exactly like when the Gophers embarrassed the Illini on their home floor last February 27th, a contest that could end up being a de facto NCAA Tournament “play-out” game.

But good teams win those games, they find a way. Or at least they win some, this Illini has won none of those games because they don’t take weak (or perceived to be weak) teams seriously. They don’t try hard versus the league’s second division, so maybe their extremely tough remaining road schedule favors them?

They still have to go to Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan State (the one team in the conference with more effort issues than Illinois) so maybe they’ll get fired up for that. Maybe the idea of perceived challenge will keep them from getting complacent?

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He doesn’t have a real nickname, but he is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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Comments

  1. Chair Tossing IS a Sport says

    This team can’t win on the road because they’re mental midgets. They have no killer instinct. They lack leadership. They lack a star upperclassman (I don’t consider McCamey a star-a star doesn’t score 20 one night and 2 the next). The also lack basketball IQ. They settle for poor shots, they’re lazy defensively, their 7’1″ center wants to be a shooting guard, and Bruce Weber’s incessant screeching on the sidelines irritates officials (often, in my opinion through my observations, enough to perhaps cause an official to think twice before giving the Illini the benefit of the doubt on a close call or a bang-bang play.) As an official (I officiate basketball and baseball), I can tell you that when a coach screeches in your ear non-stop, you tend to start ignoring them altogether. Then, in order to get your attention, they REALLY have to make an a*s of themselves, which can often result in a technical and/or ejection. Weber absolutely fits this bill. How he hasn’t been kicked out of more games is a credit to the patience of Big Ten basketball officials. I believe the subtraction of McCamey and Tisdale after this season to graduation will actually strengthen this Illini team. Other players will have to fill the voids but the voids are present so often now, who will know the difference? One thing I WILL give Weber credit for is that when he has mentally tough players, he has been able to win a LOT of road games in some VERY tough venues (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, etc…). Clearly, this problem is not all Weber. McCamey and Tisdale will go down as two of the most disappointing players to ever come through the Illini program. Bank on it.

  2. “They settle for poor shots, they’re lazy defensively, their 7’1? center wants to be a shooting guard, and Bruce Weber’s incessant screeching on the sidelines irritates officials”

    hahahahahhahahahahaha. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn and screamed at the television these past four years when it comes to Tis playing like he’s 6’4″ I think I’ve tweeted the same thing.

    And we get a kick out of Weber’s screaming from courtside press row: “MOTION MOTION!!! MOVE! MOVE” DEMETRI!!! DEMETRI!!! DEFNED! MOVE DEMTETRI”

    of course, our favorite is always his “SIDEWINDER! SIDEWINDER!”

  3. I guess Meechi has decided he really needs to rest up for the NBA combine workouts, so he’ll just take the rest of the season off.

    “interesting strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for them” –Dodgeball

    my biggest fear: we end up saying about McCamey and Tisdale what we said about Trent Meacham, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, Richard Keene, Andy Kaufman etc. “we’ll have addition by subtraction when they’re gone” because no, we really didn’t

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