9 things really wrong with Illini basketball right now

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Last night the #23 Illini lost at home to a Northwestern team that has their coach squarely on the hot seat, is reeling from injuries and without their best player in Drew Crawford. The loss was the third in a row by double digits for the Illini, and the three defeats have been even more lopsided than the scores indicate. This shouldn’t be happening to a team that was ranked in the top ten just a few short weeks ago.

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#11 Illini crush #8 Ohio State, rebound literally and figuratively

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This is what it’s like to rebound: both winning the battle on the glass and coming back from a loss. In their last three games (Mizzou, Auburn and Purdue) the Illini got owned on the backboards and went 1-2. In their Big Ten opener Illinois got upset by a .500 Purdue team. The loss was shocking, but the #11 Illini recovered nicely, CRUSHING the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes 74-55 in their conference home opener. They won the battle of the boards 40-30.

It was their second win over a top ten team this season, and their most lopsided defeat of a top ten ranked Big Ten team since 1954. Although it appears both teams in this one are over-ranked and overrated. Or it’s just that no one will be able to win on the road in the Big Ten this year. Either way, it was Illinois’ best defensive effort of the year by far, and a career game for center Nnanna Egwu.

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Illini seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul lead the way

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The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered their first loss last night to Mizzou, but they’re still 12-1. And nationally ranked. I think any Illinois fan would have taken 12-1 at this point when the season started. This Illini team will go as far as their seniors will take them. And I’m not talking about Tyler Griffey. Four year starter guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are the keys to the Illini maintaining that top ranking and getting a high seed in March. And then doing something with it.

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#13 Illini are for real; win at #10 Gonzaga verifies

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Last year’s Illinois Fighting Illini started 10-0, just like this year’s team. They finished an awful 17-15. But those were the Illini of Bruce Weber, not John Groce. With the 85-74 win at #10 Gonzaga last night, the first year coach has now produced the fastest start for a rookie coach in school history.

11 point underdogs, no one gave the Illini a chance. CBS’ Doug Gottlieb called Illinois overrated and predicted the Illini would get thrashed. And many preseason publications predicted the Illini to finish 9th or 10th in the Big Ten.

They were all wrong.

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#63 Illinois Fighting Illini: College Basketball 111 in 111

Welcome to The Sports Bank’s third annual college basketball season preview series.  Two years we looked at 99 teams in 99 days.  Last year, we were slightly more aggressive and expanded to 111 teams in 111 days and will do so again as we look ahead to the 2012-2013 season.

We will rank the 75 power conference teams and top 36 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order.  We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.

After several years of underachieving, Bruce Weber was shown the door as Illinois Fighting Illini head coach and replaced by Ohio’s John Groce.  There is still decent enough talent left on the Illini roster but can Groce right the ship in his first year in Champaign?

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Illini star Brandon Paul breaks jaw in open gym session

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Illini guard Brandon Paul will have to carry the load for Illinois college basketball next season. Especially now that Meyers Leonard is gone to the NBA (most likely the Milwaukee Bucks with the #12 pick). BP dropped 43 in the season’s biggest win over Final Four team Ohio State, but he was still largely inconsistent, and committed way too many turnovers.

Paul will need to be the go-to guy in new coach John Groce’s first season. And his offseason preparing for that role just suffered a major setback.

From BTN:

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Illini C Meyers Leonard declares for NBA Draft; tough break for John Groce

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The first season for new Illini head coach John Groce just got a lot tougher. He’ll be without his big 7 foot post presence in Center Meyers Leonard, who declared for the NBA Draft.

His sounds-like-it-tested-well-with-focus-groups statement regarding the matter:

“This was a very difficult decision because I love the University of Illinois. But I feel the timing is right for me to follow my dream of playing in the NBA and having the opportunity to provide for my mom and family. I want to thank everyone in the Illini program for their support these past two years. It starts with Coach Weber, who has always believed in me.

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Illini Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul testing NBA Draft waters

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The 2011-12 Illinois Fighting Illini alpha dog (Brandon Paul) and second banana (Meyers Leonard)  have submitted their names to the NBA’s undergraduate advisory committee to receive feedback on their draft stock. Therefore, they will have the chance to receive feedback from NBA scouts on their game, but still retain the ability to return to school next season.

I think I know what they’ll hear.

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Embattled Illini avoid first winless February since 1907

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The college basketball season is only five months long, so any time you’re talking about a winless month, it’s not a good sign. And in their seventh and final game of the year’s shortest month, the Illini would not come up short.

They picked up a 65-54 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, avoiding the February donut, which hasn’t happened to the program since 1907.

The Illini also improved their record vs Iowa at home to 61-14 all time; they’ve won 11 in a row at Assembly Hall vs. the Hawks and seven in a row overall against the team from Iowa City.

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Just how shaky is Illini coach Bruce Weber’s Job Security?

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The Assembly Hall crowd in Champaign called for Bruce Weber’s head. Illini fans in B Section screamed “pack your bags” and “I can draw up a better offense.” This has gone on for years, except this time there was one major difference- No one in the orange and blue crowd stuck up for Bruce.

And this happened during one of this year’s signature wins, a victory over a top ten Michigan State team. Illini Nation seems to be totally fed up with Weber. He’s about as well liked as point guard Sam Maniscalco, who acts like a black hole in the offense. His field goal and three-point percentages are so low that on those rare occasions he hits a shot, it seems like a miracle has occurred.

Down at courtside on this night you could hear Weber screaming “MOVE MOVE MOVE!” Because there’s just no motion in his motion offense; a system that has produced only a .500 record in conference since the Champaign Campaign national runner-up year of 2005.  And Mansicalco is a big example of what’s wrong with Weber’s decision making: giving more playing time to grindy, hustle players instead of the talented ones.

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’11-’12 Illini Bare Disturbing Resemblance to ’98-’99 Team

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Bruce Weber has his 2011-12 Fighting Illini in real good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, with his third big, signature win coming just the other night over Michigan State. Yet he’s on both the hot seat and the bad side of Illini Nation. (Much more on this in a quickly upcoming post) Why?

Style points. Illini basketball is “sexy” alright, sexy as Camryn Manheim or Kathy Bates.

Their 42-41 win over MSU was the fewest points the program has scored in a win since 1946! Even though this teams look destined to hit Black Jack (21 wins) when the regular season ends, they still have an alarming amount of similarities to the 1998-99 team coached by Lon Kruger that set the school record for losses by going 14-18.

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Illinois Fighting Illini Tournament Resume: Strengths and Weaknesses

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In our latest NCAA Tournament projection, we have the Illini as a #9 seed in the South Regional. Since February is pretty much here- time to think about who needs to shore up the old resume for selection time come March.

At 16-6, 5-4 in conference, RPI 37, SoS 26 and 5-4 and vs the RPI top 50 their profile looks very solid, but not extraordinary. Including that BAD loss at Penn State (WTF is up with that? Seriously, a top notch program like Illinois being dominated in recent years by a program which has like 15 whole fans?).

Half their wins look hideous on paper but that doesn’t really matter. This isn’t based on the polls which can be influenced by margin of victory.

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