This is the only postgame analysis I can muster for Illinois' beatdown at the hands of 15-15 Michigan:
Paradigms shifted massively in Champaign this year. Let me explain:
2011: Ron Zook, who briefly elevated Illinois into the spotlight for one glorious season and then spent two seasons underachieving hilariously before a 7-6 season in 2010, caps off an historic collapse from 6-0 to 6-6 and is fired, as this is the sign that he's not built anything sustainable and all the magic was gone. A win in a bowl game gives Illinois a rare winning season, but they took the worst possible route to get there. An empty cupboard beyond a few NFL linemen and an experienced QB will leave the new coach with a steep rebuilding project, but it seems there's the talent to make the rebuilding years more than just a tire fire.
Bruce Weber, who took Illinois within minutes of a national title with a Bill Self squad but finished under .500 just two years later, caps off an historic collapse from 15-3 to 17-15 despite having Brandon Paul and a first-rounder at center in Meyers Leonard and is fired after it is clear that we will miss the NCAA tournament for the 3rd time in his 9th year. Missing the tournament 3 years out of 9 is not acceptable, especially since it was 3 of his last 5 years that he missed it. This is simply not acceptable, and Illinois looks to quickly rebuild to a tournament regular.
Enter The Prospective Saviors: Tim Beckman came in with some fanfare for turning around an embattled Toledo program, but with limited coaching experience in the MAC, there are a few doubts, but this guy projects to be a solid program builder who defers the strategy to assistants. We've always wanted a sustainably decent football program. Doubts intensify massively when he talks about lasagna at his introductory press conference. 2012 couldn't have been a bigger disaster, as the Illini finished 2-10 (0-8), the seniors didn't buy in, Beckman looked confused, got caught dipping on the sideline and got run over by refs against Northwestern. Unlike in Zook's 2-10 seasons, we weren't doing much noise in recruiting either. In many fans' minds, the quicker we can move on from the Beckman disaster, the better off we'll be.
John Groce started off as a bit of a fiasco, possibly our 6th choice, but he was the Ohio coach who had just upset Michigan in a 13-4 matchup and taken the hated Tarheels to overtime the next round. He took an Illini team that had lost the 11th overall pick in the draft and with his less restrictive offensive style he had them shooting bombs away and ended up coming within a controversial call of beating 2-seed Miami (this call later led to a rule change). Not only that, but he was winning the press conferences, looking like a coach (compared to Beckman anyway) and making a lot of top-3's for recruiting. He recruited a solid first class and he seemed to be an energetic ace recruiter that would lead us to the promised land at last.
2014: Beckman: Under relentless assault from fans and the media, Tim Beckman had to get this year right. This is year 3. He'd improved by 2 wins in 2013, but now had to replace a longtime starting quarterback. It's bowl or bust, as this guy doesn't have the public charisma or the clout to get any benefit of the doubt. Recruiting wasn't even middle-of-the-pack, and after trailing going into the fourth quarter of every non-conference game it seemed to finally come off the rails when Wes Lunt broke his leg and Beckman's Illini lost to a Purdue team coming off a 1-11 season.
Groce: With the media and fans high on John Groce in spite of the infamous Cliffmas Day, John Groce's team entered the 2014 season with a top-50 freshman PF in Leron Black and some talented sophomores returning in Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, not to mention Rayvonte Rice. Despite a lack of depth due to three redshirting players, Illinois just missed the NCAA tournament the prior year, nearly beating Elite-8-bound Michigan in the BTT. With Darius Paul providing 4/5 depth and Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby providing deadly 3-point shooters, this would be the year Illinois announced its return to regular tournament presence. Is Groce on the hot seat if they don't make it? No, but that's because some extenuating circumstances will have to happen, and he's the man anyway! Plus, they're a lock to make the tournament. JFG! Despite senior PG Tracy Abrams tearing an ACL and Darius Paul leaving school, Illinois knocked off Baylor to win the Las Vegas Invitational.
Beckman: Left for dead, Illinois Football donned some ridiculous uniforms for homecoming against a ranked Minnesota team with the #4 leading rusher in the nation and somehow won by virtue of playing well AND getting all the bounces. But two losses later, the 4-6 Illini were an afterthought. The Beckman era was over if the Illini couldn't beat a Penn State team that had just taken OSU to overtime or a Northwestern team that had just beaten Notre Dame.
Groce: Flying high, the Illini went to the United Center to paste Oregon. Leading in the second half, they let it slip away somehow. They turned around and blew a 12 point lead at Michigan and got dominated at Ohio State. Then Rayvonte Rice broke his hand and an ineffective Aaron Cosby hurt his eye, and then both were suspended. Yet Groce got a 6-3 run out of this depleted version of the Illini, including wins against Maryland and at MSU. This is JFG, and even if Aaron Cosby left the team and Ahmad Starks hasn't been all that and the big men behind Nnanna Egwu are behind schedule, we just went 6-3 while missing 3 players that were supposed to start this season! Some losses due to limited depth set up a home game against MSU that we had to win to lock up the tourney.
Beckman: Backs against the wall with few heralded recruits and a career backup quarterback, the Illini won both games somehow. Tim Beckman got a giggle in at the expense of those who laughed when he said the team could still finish 7-6 (better known as everyone). They lost the bowl game, but this Illini team fought above their perceived talent level in a way not familiar to Illini fans. They bucked the trend of Illinois football having games that they are expected to win and need to win and blowing those games hilariously; instead, as underdogs, they won their must-win games playing well over their heads. Beckman followed that up by signing the 6th best class in the Big Ten, including an All-American in OL Gabe Megginson. Against all odd, this doofus seems to have the foundation of a program in place.
Groce: Backs against the wall, but with several four-star shooting guards and upper-level talent, Illinois hosted a Spartans team they'd beaten on the road and proceeded to lose a low-scoring, ugly game. With no point guard or big man committed for 2015, Illinois really needed to establish that they were a legitimate program again. They beat Northwestern and Nebraska and got out to a 15-2 lead at Purdue in a virtual play-in game. Then, they disappeared and lost badly. However, they still had one more chance to avoid the unthinkable: missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive years for the first time since the early 90's sanctions. If they could beat Wisconsin in the BTT, they were in. Hell, even if they lose to Wisconsin, they can get in with some help in the other tournaments. This Michigan team is depleted and Illinois has more talent and more depth than them right now. We absolutely positively need this win.
73-55, in a game not as close as the score would lead you to believe.
This isn't the nail in the coffin for John Groce, but without a point guard I don't see how things will improve. He still hasn't gotten himself a Burger Boy. Beilein and Ryan drink his milkshake as coaches, and now he's not looking like the elite recruiter he was projected as.
Tim Beckman's future looks brighter than that of John Groce, who just coached the worst Illinois basketball loss since UIC.