The basketball season begins for real on Friday. This is excellent news for those of us who have slogged through the 2012 football season, having our brains beaten in. Of course, there is no guarantee that this basketball season will feel all that much different than the football season has.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fairly certain that the basketball season won't be as painful as football's been, but it's going to have some bumps in the road. Bumps that are already evident through the first two exhibition games that the Illini have played in the last few weeks.
Just looking at the final score of the West Chester exhibition and seeing the Illini won by only 9 points is worrisome, but not nearly as scary as the amount of turnovers the Illini had in that game. There were 21 of those. In a 40 minute game.
It's not all that unexpected, either, considering Tracy Abrams is the only point guard on the roster and he was an off guard in high school. Still, Abrams is the only member of the roster to have more assists (7) than turnovers (5) through the two games. On the whole the team's assist-to-turnover ratio is terrible.
The Illini had 21 assists and 36 turnovers in the exhibition games.
"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Groce said following the West Chester game. "What? I'm just going to panic and do something different? We're going to do what we do and do what we do better."
"It was sporadic or random at best. I thought we played well for about 20 minutes of it. ... Those (statistics) aren't up to our standards. These guys have some pretty high standards."
Now, like John Groce, I'm not going to panic here, but I am going to worry. West Chester was able to outscore the Illini 46-31 in the second half largely thanks to a full-court press it put on. A formula that I'm sure other teams will be employing against this team until a second ballhandler emerges.
Who that second ball-handler is, I don't know. The answer isn't obvious on this roster. It could be D.J. Richardson or walk on Mike LaTulip. It might even be Brandon Paul or Joseph Bertand. Odds are it will be a combination of the four.
What's important is that the Illini get better taking care of the ball. This team just doesn't have the talent to win consistently in the BIg Ten if it doesn't.