As the 112th season of Big Ten play tips of for the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, the hopes and dreams of Illini fans came crashing down from the rafters. Well, not quite, but it certainly felt like it as this game seemed like a 40-minute carbon copy of so many that Illinois played in last year. Getting out manned, out hustled, and outscored. Illinois fell to Maryland 84-59 to move to 10-4 on the year, while Maryland improves to 13-1, extending their win streak to six.
If you’re a Maryland fan and this score looks familiar, you’re right. And no, not because Illinois got blown out by Maryland at the end of last year too, but because Maryland beat up on Division II foe Catawba College by a score of 95-61, an only 14 point larger margin of victory than tonight against Illinois. I’m not sure if I’m the first person to ever compare Big Ten team Illinois to this small liberal arts school in Salisbury, North Carolina, because the similarities end there, even their mascot, the Catawba Indian, survived the mid 2000’s reaping of Native American mascots, while ours only exists in underground Champaign t-shirt stores.
Alright, now that I’ve got that out of the way, on to the rest of the post. The way these are going to work is that after Illinois wins, I’ll post an Opinions after a Win Post and when we lose, I’ll be posting an Opinions after we Lose Post. Something strange tells me that one of these titles will be making more appearances than the other, but we’ll leave that one up to Coach Groce.
Illinois got down early, never really dug into the lead, and let the Terrapins run away from it in the second half. The words “run”, and “Terrapin,” a type of turtle, typically don’t go hand in hand, but when you play Illinois, why not?
Malcolm Hill was the leading scorer of the game, scoring 21 points on 6 of 10 shooting in 32 minutes, while the likes of Leron Black (1-5, 5 points) and Tracy Abrams (1-10, 2 points) were nowhere to be found after having field days in the scoring column in non-conference play. Tracy, who saw his 3 point field goal percentage rise to one of the tops in the nation, missed all six of his attempts today. Both of these guys will need to find their jump shot again in order to have that same non-conference success if they want to give the Illini a chance. Other quick hits of players for the Illini today:
JCL- Still struggling to find his shot from deep, yet isn’t getting much more success from closer range/when he attempts to drive
Thorne- Baby hook was and is incredibly effective, but sometimes you needs dish it out, especially when your star player is open at the top of the 3 point line wide open
Tate- Another scoreless game for Jaylon, and although he is definitely a facilitator, you’re looking for a PG who can score and pass *ahem ahem* Mr. Te’jon Lucas
Te’jon- Was substituted into the game(!!!) and although still showed signs of lack of experience, was effective because of his ability to get to the hoop (he scored a nice layup!)
Now, if you’re looking for a game recap, you’ll get a general overview of what happened in the game. Who played well, who struggled, and so on. But what you’re really going to get is the opinion of a fan, this fan, a die-hard Illinois basketball fan, and student at the University of Illinois. I’m going to give it to you as straight as I can, and I’ll try to not to write these wearing Illini goggles, even if these games do want to make you pound double-digit shots of honey whiskey.
It might get a little heated at times, or a little emotional, but hey, it’s the internet and nobody knows if you’re a dog, or a flustered Illinois fan looking for the words to describe the frustration of a loss. Speaking of words, is there a word out there that fits the criteria of “When you have one point guard on you’re team who is experienced, yet can’t score very well or do much else, so you go out and recruit a point guard, yet he ends up riding the bench for most of the season thus far and this game, only to enter the game down dozens of points, when all hope for the game is lost?” I feel like that’s a word that really needs to be created. You know who I’m talking about, Jaylon Tate and Te’jon Lucas.
Look, I don’t like harping on players, they’re college kids who are trying their hardest and they’re balancing athletics with Big Ten academics and on top of that, they have to deal with people like me, who blow one game out of proportion in search for explanations. Who I will harp on though is the coaching staff. I get that Groce wants to play Tate because he’s comfortable with Tate, and that while he’s on the hot seat he’s going to play the guys he trusts. But when you haven’t made the tournament in multiple years, you change things up, and give the young guy a shot. I’m about the farthest thing from a basketball coach, and just as unqualified to give my opinion about playing time, but when you start the Big Ten season getting decimated by a team, maybe give the rock to Te’jon before the lead bubbles to 30.
If the season ended today, Northwestern would be in the tournament and Illinois would be at home in Champaign, maybe planning another trip to Europe for the summer where they can play an exhibition game against the Dutch national team. But it’s not, and it’s only one game. Most fans and experts had Maryland winning this one, so it mostly just stings because of the score, and how Illinois got dominated in every facet of the game from tipoff till the end. Illinois can still make the tournament with 10 or so wins in conference play, and a win or two in the Big Ten tournament but the upcoming schedule is not Illinois’ friend as next games up are vs. Ohio State, at Indiana vs. Michigan, and vs. Purdue. You hope to pick up at least one or two of those as wins. If Illinois fails to get a win here in the first five games, which I still think is unlikely, then Illinois is in trouble.
Hey, are we a football school now?