The feature I appreciate most about the John Groce coached Fighting Illini is that no matter the opponent, Illinois manages to keep the game competitive. This goes both way in terms of opponent talent. Bad teams and great teams alike--everybody grinds it out with the Illini. And although the tight games, especially against lesser teams, are often frustrating and always nerve wracking, you know you'll always have a chance at a win.
None of that held true on Wednesday night. Not since the lowest depths of the Bruce Weber-era have I watched a team so helpless, so completely outmatched. Wisconsin outmanned Illinois in every aspect of the game. On the offensive end, they passed the ball in and out and back in, leading always to an open shot that almost always went down. On defense, a Badger was always there. He was always moving his feet, playing face up defense without help so no Illini could easily move to the basket, or to the wing, or to anywhere. And when the rare opportunity for a basket did arrive, the rim wouldn't cooperate. The layup would spin out.
Bo Ryan doesn't simply beat you. He defeats you. He suffocates your offense, forces it to come up for air, and steals the ball just as you takes your first breath. He'll embarrass your defense. He'll humble your season-long ambitions. The Big Ten has no more helpless of a situation than playing a successful Bo Ryan gameplan, and the Illini enjoyed every bit of that misery on Wednesday.
Wisconsin led 50-25 at halftime, stifled a mini-Illinois run to start the second half, then again jumped out even more, holding a 30-point cushion for a large chunk of the second half. The game ended at 95-70, and truly, it could have been worse.
- Throw every Illini statistic from that game out the door. Ignore the point totals because they'll only lead you to believe some Illini played well, when really, none did. Rayvonte Rice led the scoring with 19, and at one point, got blocked so thoroughly that my friend sitting next to me said, "That's a dad block. That's how dads block their sons in pool basketball."
- Joseph Bertrand tallied 18 points and nine rebounds. Of the Illini, he played the best, and still, he by no means shined.
- The freshman struggled, BAD. Not only did they not contribute at all to whatever comeback effort the Illini mounted, the team stood at a clear disadvantage with them on the court. Burned on defense, overmatched on offense, and the rest of it. Their potential is high, and we should all be excited about their future. But that doesn't help us this year, and it hurt us fatally tonight.
- Nnanna Egwu has regressed. Towards the end of last year, he was oftentimes the most important player on the floor, but that only came after a season's worth of improvement. He's not playing better game-by-game anymore. He's looking the same, and that same needs work. He does the little things and he works hard, but his progression arc skipped the plateau stage, and instead simply fell off the cliff.
- Wisconsin is a damn good basketball team, by far the best Illinois has played thus far. They have to be Bo Ryan's best passing team. The ball was constantly in motion, flowing from entry passes to swing passes to skip passes, always ending in an open shot. Their defense seemed completely impenetrable in the first half as well. This team could do some damage this season.
- Bad game. Moving on. Stomp Northwestern, get some groove back and keep the vibes rolling into a gauntlet Big Ten season.
NEXT GAME: Illinois at Northwestern -- Sunday, January 12th, 6:30 p.m. CT -- Big Ten Network.