Pre-gamin’: Illinois vs. Wisconsin

8:00 January 31, 2017


Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS 1400 AM WDWS

Questions Worth Asking

  1. Will we see a more consistent lineup from the Illini? As discussed in the Penn State pregame, John Groce has become notorious for making frequent and, um, interesting substitutions. Against Iowa, Groce played 10 guys more than 10 minutes. I thought that was rare. Then he did it again against Penn State. I’m not convinced this is a good thing. It either suggests a desperate attempt to find someone or some combination that can get the team going – this was the case in the first half against the Nittany Lions – or an inability to commit to a lineup staying on the court long enough to get in a rhythm. A liberal substitution pattern would seem counterproductive to the development of a cohesive unit on the court. Malcolm Hill suggested the frequent mixing of players shouldn’t matter for Illinois because they’re all used to playing together, but Coach Groce alluded to the Badgers’ consistent lineup as one of their major strengths. Groce said that Wisconsin, which starts 4 seniors and redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ, benefited from a starting five that not only had experience, but experience playing together. This contributes to their connectedness on both offense and defense. So how about we give this consistency thing at try at Illinois, coach?
  2. Speaking of Ethan Happ, can the Illini contain him in the paint? The 6’10” forward is having a heck of a year for the Badgers. Happ is an Illinois native whose recruitment slipped through the crack between the tenures of Bruce Weber and John Groce. In Wisconsin’s come-from-behind victory over Rutgers in New York Saturday, Happ scored 32 points, with 14 of those coming in crunch time. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block per game. He’ll be a load for the Illini big men.
  3. Can the Illini put together a complete game? Yesterday, Groce backed off some of his criticism of the team’s performance at Penn State, saying it didn’t look as bad on tape as he’d thought. I didn’t watch the tape, but I thought it looked plenty bad in the first half in Happy Valley. Also, we were down 20 points. To Penn State. Anyway, after the game, Groce said he was tired of praising his team for playing well for portions of the game; he should be. It’s going to take a consistent, high-level performance from the Illini to make this game interesting in the final minutes. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin is top 5 in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, steals, and turnover margin. They lead the league in scoring defense (meaning they give up the least number of points per game) and rebounding margin. Where they may be vulnerable is beyond the arc. They’re 8th in 3pt shooting percentage and 12th in 3pt percentage defense. Illinois comes in at 6th in shooting threes and 8th in defending them. Illinois will need to get hot from deep. Wisconsin also struggles from the line, shooting 66.7%, good for 12th in the conference.

Final Thoughts

Illinois has talked a lot this season about improving their connectedness on the court. A lack of cohesiveness manifests in confusion and slow rotations on defense and stagnation on offense. To compete with Wisconsin, the Illini need to play together for 40 minutes. As Tracy Abrams said in his pregame comments, “Talk is cheap at the end of the day. We’ve got to go out there and show.” The Illini play better at home, but they’ve had problems putting a complete game together all year. Wisconsin is ranked #10 in the country, and they’re coming into Champaign determined to prove an embarrassingly close win over Rutgers was an anomaly. Wisconsin by 10.

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