"It's here. It's finally here! Illinois football is back. So without further adieu, here's five bold reasons as to why you and your fellow Illini fans should be optimistic about the 2013 season."
Yeah... I wrote that. It was mid-August and I was drinking the orange kool-aid like never before. I said Donovonn Young would thrive. I said the Illini would beat Washington and Michigan State. I even predicted that a player who is no longer on the football team would be a breakout All-B1G star. But then again... what do I know? I was desperate for some Illinois football when I wrote that article back in late summer. And I come to you all once again desperate, this time with a completely reversed wish; that football season put me out of my misery and basketball season get going already.
My wish is a day away from being granted. John Groce, the man who many of us said was "just another mediocre MAC hire by silly Mike Thomas" now has shirts being made in his honor that read: John F*ckin Groce. I mean let's face it; his first season here at Illinois was a runaway success. But now he's got nine new faces on the roster and has lost 80% of his starting lineup from last season. Will he and the team meet or even exceed expectations for the upcoming campaign? Or are we expecting too much from a very, very young team? Only time will tell, but for those of you hungry for ANSWERS NOW... one, eat a snickers, and then two, sit back and read these five reasons why John F*ckin Groce's second season at Illinois will be just as tremendous as his first.
1. Illinois will once again defeat Indiana in a big upset. Figured I'd start with #IndianaTears to get the ball rolling. We all know what happened last season in Champaign, but in case you were living under a rock for the past year, it was when the unranked Illini who were on a four-game skid knocked off the #1 ranked team in the nation on a last-second shot. I see a similar result this season. The Hoosiers are our first conference game of the season, and who the hell knows what could happen on a New Year's Eve game in the House of Paign? True, Indiana has lost a lot of talent in the offseason, but they're now a blue-blooded program that reloads, not rebuilds, no matter who moves on to the NBA. They'll be a dangerous team once again this season, and to expect a win against them this year would be unrealistic. But these predictions are bold ones. And I say we spring the huge upset once again.
2. The Illini are going to beat Missouri for the first time since 2008. Heading into this season, Missouri has lost four starters, and returns only Jabari Brown from their 2012-13 starting five. Remember that Phil Pressey chose to skip his senior season and signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics. Also keep in mind that their head coach, Frank Haith, has been suspended five games by the NCAA due to his involvement in the Nevin Shapiro scandal. All in all, the Tigers 2013-14 roster simply doesn't have a performer who's going to keep pace in both efficiency and volume; the offense will be less potent than what we've seen the last two seasons, when they've beaten Illinois in St. Louis by just a combined 16 points. But this year will be different for the Illini, and they will beat the Tigers on a neutral court in the annual Braggin' Rights game.
3. Illinois will never compile a streak of more than 3 games at any point during the conference season. Whether it's a losing streak or a winning streak, neither will amass to four or more games in a row at any point during Big Ten play. If you've done any analyzing of the basketball schedule, particularly the conference schedule, you've probably noticed a weird pattern to it... Starting with Indiana at home, here is how the home/road games are divided up: two home games, two road games, two home games, two road games, two home games, two road games, one home game, one road game, one home game, one road game. That's weird. And on top of that, never during the Illini season are there three straight home games or three straight road games after November 26th. Is it just me or is that kind of irregular? Regardless, I don't think there will be a win streak of more than three or a losing streak of more than three once B1G play starts. The back-to-back home games provide a chance for the Illini to at least take one of two, and same with the road games. So I don't foresee a big slump or big winning streak happening at any point during the conference season.
4. Jaylon Tate will emerge as the best out of the group of freshman. A lot of people have their eyes on Kendrick Nunn, the Simeon product, to be the shining star out of the five incoming freshman for the Illini, but I've got my sights set on a different newcomer. Jaylon Tate, another kid from Simeon high school, has a lot of potential and will be a key part to the future, if not this season specifically. It's clear that Groce likes Tate as the backup point guard behind Tracy Abrams; when TA sat out the Northwood game with an injury, Jaylon was the starter. So I think it's very possible if not likely that he will shine with his work in relief of Abrams or at a different guard position. And by the end of the 2013-14 campaign, I think Tate will have the best numbers of any of the five freshman.
5. Illinois will play in the postseason. Whether that's the CBI, NIT, or NCAA Tournament, I think it's going to happen. Some are doubting the depth and experience on this team, and don't believe that the amount of talent will be enough to go dancing. And they might be right. Yes, the team is young. Yes, patience will be the key. But it's not like we've brought in ten freshman who are scared to play on television. Joe Bertrand is a senior. Jon Ekey and Ray Rice are seasoned transfers who bring wisdom and talent to the team. Egwu and Abrams are juniors, and they'll no doubt play a huge role in how this season will go. So while it's true that nine new faces join the Illini this season, that doesn't mean that it will take years to develop them into Big Ten-caliber players. So I think that if the older players can take command of the locker-room and take the younger ones under their wing, the toughness and togetherness of John F*ckin Groce's Illini squad will power their way into the postseason. I can't point to certain Big Ten games and say, "We'll win this one" or "We'll lose this one," but I just feel like somehow, someway we'll get the job done.
Agree with my predictions? Think I boldly went where no Illini fan has gone before? Hate my ideas? Regardless, drop by below, vote, and comment!