Illinois was 25 minutes away from being a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but now they're going out as losers in the first round of the NIT. This team's collapse in West Lafayette was, sadly, just the beginning of the worst stretch of basketball we've seen since Bruce Weber was coaching our beloved. It's simply astonishing when you think about it--this team completely and utterly quit over the past two and a half games. It was sickening to watch.
The No. 3 seed "Fighting" Illini (19-14, 9-9) were forced to play No. 6 seed Alabama (19-14, 8-10) in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night due to the ongoing renovations at the State Farm Center. The venue had zero outcome on the game. It was evident from the moment the ball was tipped that Illinois didn't want to be on the court; the Crimson Tide blitzed their way to a 46-22 halftime lead and never looked back on their way to a 79-58 victory.
Senior guard Levi Randolph led the way for the Crimson Tide with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists on 7-11 shooting (2-3 3PT). As a team, Alabama shot an incredible 59.6% from the field and 53.3% from long range.
After coming off the bench for the first time this season, Malcolm Hill went on to score a team-high 22 points for Illinois on 7-13 shooting. Senior captains Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu scored 12 and 7 points, respectively, in the final game of their collegiate careers.
Looking at the big picture, John Groce's job status is 100% safe heading into the 2015-16 season. It's completely foolish to think otherwise. However at this point I think it's safe to say that a change could be made if Illinois doesn't make the tournament for a third straight year. Groce has done an outstanding job on the recruiting trail, but it's time for those results to start translating on to the court.
2015-16 will be year four of the Groce era, which means that, with the exception of Tracy Abrams, all of Bruce Weber's players will have moved on. That's fantastic, to say the absolute least. The NCAA Tournament should be attainable when you also consider that a top ten recruiting class is on the way to bolster a good foundation of talent.
Tuesday night's game is over and it was another embarrassing night for the University of Illinois. For John Groce's sake, a performance like that better not happen again.