If you consider the career of John Groce, you might think he has peaked when he reached 29-8 with his final Ohio Bobcat squad. You'd be right. Groce has returned records of 23–13 and 20–15 in his first two seasons in Chambana. Last season the Illini stormed out of the gate to a 13-3 record and a #23 ranking upon playing Wisconsin. Wisconsin's 95-70 scalping of the Illini was a harbinger of the things to come as the Illini went 7-11 in conference games, and followed that up with two second round losses in the Big Ten Tournament and the NIT. Ouch. #nicethings
Going into this season, our friends over at The Champaign Room had this to say about the season:
This is a team that has very high expectations going into the season. It's fair to say that not making the NCAA tournament would be a huge disappointment. Many media outlets are sleeping on Illinois and that's a mistake. This roster has the ability to make a deep run in the field of 68, the real question is can they take the next step and produce consistently on offense as well as minimizing the injuries? If both of those things can happen, the Illini will be playing in late March.
After taking a sip of Orange Kool-Aid and analyzing the schedule I'll officially go with a 23-8 record, but anywhere between 20 and 25 wins (with double-digit non-conference wins too) seems to be a fair projection. And while every game matters, there are some that might define the season more so than others. Key games before Big Ten play begins include a matchup on December 9th against Villanova and a holiday battle on December 20th against Missouri. Then there are home-and-home's with Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State throughout conference play, three of the best teams in the Big Ten. This will be a tough and grueling schedule to get through, but Illinois has the weapons to do so.
Much to their dismay the Illini went 19-14 overall. Let's take a look at the season:
The Illini had a really good November and December, only losing to #15 Miami in the Big Ten - ACC challenge, #7 Villanova at Madison Square Garden, and also against Oregon in the United Center.
I'd rate January and February as "meh" for the Illini: they went 9-9 with a quality win over #11 Maryland. Unfortunately, the Illini lost to #20 Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, #5 Wisconsin, MSU, Iowa and Purdue.
March was the classic month to forget for the Illini: they lost 55-73 against Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and then were upset by 6 seed Alabama in the NIT.
Austin Colbert just announced his intentions to transfer on April 15th, and also Aaron Cosby will transfer to Western Kentucky. Rees Woodstock from WritingIllini.com thinks that Maybe Aaron Cosby was unhappy for being suspended for the generic "violation of team rules" reason earlier this year with Rayvonte Rice. Maybe coach Groce is also targeting Charlotte big man Mike Thorne, also according to Reed Woodstock of WritingIllini.com. Also, the aforementioned Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu and Ryan Schmidt have played their last games for the Illini.
John Groce needs to improve his record quickly if he has any hopes of sticking around Champaign as long as Bruce Weber did. His current .596 overall and .444 conference record does not look favorable to Weber's .675 overall and .578 conference record. The faithful in State Farm arena are hungry for a winner, and I believe he needs to have better seasons soon. All these transfers and whatnot lead OTE's chief conspiracy uncoverer Andrew Kraszewski to think that maybe the Illini are still in the market for a few high market transfers.
What do you guys and gals think?