I don't know about you, but I've had just about enough of these road blowouts. And this one was nearly the worst of all time, statistically speaking.
Indiana came out of the gates shooting bombs away from deep. They hit six (!!) three-pointers in the first few minutes of the contest and were up by eleven before the Illini even knew what hit them. But Malcolm Hill and company soon woke up, going on a 10-0 run in less than two minutes to pull within one point at 22-21. But then it appeared as though they fell right back asleep as the Hoosiers went off again, going on a 20-4 run to go into the locker room up 17. The Illini missed seven of their last eight shots of the first half.
The last twenty minutes of play were nothing to write home about it either. Kendrick Nunn hit a couple early shots to pad his stats, but fouled out halfway through the second half and the deficit was quickly as big as 21 before the first media timeout. Yogi Ferrell was the story as per usual for Indiana; he finished with 16 points and nine assists, including one that put him on top of the all-time assists list for the Hoosiers. Troy Williams also made a big impact, pitching in 21 more points of his own.
Here are some things we learned, but probably already knew, from Tuesday night's game:
Mike Thorne Jr. was a sight for sore eyes
We'll start out with a positive here. Even though Thorne only saw limited minutes of action, he grabbed nine rebounds and was clearly making a productive impact on the floor. As he continues to ease his way back into a full-time role he will hopefully continue to return to his form from earlier this year, when he was averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. Seriously, that's all I've got. It was hard to find anything nice to say about this drubbing.
Stop with the excuses
Okay, I get it. Injuries. We've all heard about how many of them the Illini have suffered ad nauseam. Stop. talking. about. the injuries. This team's flaws are much deeper than that. It becomes even more abundantly obvious when the team is actually healthy, and they still play poorly. The excuses for why Illinois is actually an NCAA tournament lock that's just fallen on rough times are getting borderline intolerable. This team lacks any type of a structured, adjustable offensive system, and that's piled on top of a defense that looks lost. Groce, in principle, likes to implement man-to-man defense, but that wasn't working with this roster, so he tried a 2-3 zone. That worked even less. Dan Dakich, who is by no means a brilliant man but has seen plenty of college basketball in his time, called it "one of the worst zones he'd ever seen." Setting the injuries and the excuses aside completely, this is still a bad basketball team.
There is no light at the end of the tunnel
Illinois basketball has seen a moderate amount of success in the past decade. Obviously that all started with the national runner-up finish and things have undoubtedly gone downhill from there, but the Illini have made the postseason eight of the last eleven seasons. But I've got news for you folks: barring a miracle Big Ten tournament run in March, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for this team. It seems almost unthinkable to visualize the Fighting Illini out of the postseason picture entirely, but it's going to happen in 2016. The 2014 Illinois team that made it to the NIT two years ago had twenty wins and barely got in. This team isn't going to hit 20 wins. Taking a look at the next five games:
- @ Minnesota
- vs. Ohio State
- vs. Wisconsin
- @ Rutgers
- vs. No. 9 Iowa
That's probably two wins and three losses. If we're lucky. At this point, this team is what they are by now. Things aren't going to get significantly better this season, folks.
Illinois Fighting Illini Stats
Indiana Hoosiers Stats
The Illini will return to action this coming Saturday when they travel to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers (6-13, 0-7), who just might be the second-worst team in the Big Ten. Hopefully the orange and blue can right the ship on the back end of their road trip doubleheader, and return to Champaign with a good taste in their mouths and a .500 overall record.