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Why Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball is Making The Tournament In 2016-17

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Presented as a Thumpasaurus Roundtable Discussion

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
inquisitive thumpasaurus

Greetings, Big Ten fans, and welcome to the third installment of Off Tackle Empire’s basketball previews. I’m your host, Inquisitive Thumpasaurus. As the football season churns through the meat of the conference slate, some fans are already gearing up for basketball season and fortunately for those Michigan State fans, we’re ready to discuss hoops. After their team suffered a 41-8 drubbing in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Fighting Illini fans will be looking forward to basketball season as well. But what should we expect from the fifth season under head coach John Groce? Coming off a season with a program-record nineteen overall losses while missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, can he put it together this year? Let’s get some answers from a panel of Illinois Fighting Illini analysts. Please welcome to the show Depression Thumpasaurus, Pragmatic Thumpasaurus and Belligerent Thumpasaurus.

sauruses
depression thumpasaurus small

because what people want is to hear the opinions of this hollow shell of a saurus

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

Thank you for having me on the show.

belligerent thumpasaurus
inquisitive thumpasaurus small

Gentlesaurs, here we are at a decisive moment in the John Groce era. I think it’s safe to say that he has to make the NCAA tournament this year to continue at Illinois, but this team largely has the same players as last year. Expected starters are PG Tracy Abrams, SG Jalen Coleman-Lands, SF Malcolm Hill, PF Leron Black and C Mike Thorne, Jr., with Hill being the biggest offensive threat. What do you see as a major strength of this team?

belligerent thumpasaurus

A MAJOR STRENGTH IS THAT THIS TEAM HAS MAJOR STRENGTH. LOOK AT THESE GUYS.

LOOK AT MALCOLM HILL ON THE LEFT. I’M GONNA CALL HIM MALCOLM FLEX NOW. S&C COACH ADAM FLETCHER HAS TURNED THESE MEN INTO TURBOBEASTS. IT’S HARD TO WIN A BASKETBALL GAME WHEN YOUR OPPONENT MAKES IT CLEAR THAT YOU DON’T EVEN LIFT, BRO.

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

The strength and conditioning updates from Fletcher have been incredible, but from a basketball standpoint, this roster is much more complete than last year’s. Injuries sidelined virtually every player on the roster at one point, but in particular Abrams, Thorne and Black missed very significant time. In limited action, Thorne proved to be the best post player Illinois has had in many years, and the combination of Thorne, a senior Maverick Morgan, redshirt sophomore Michael Finke and a healthy Leron Black will make it much more difficult to drive to the bucket. Questions linger at point guard, but at least the team should have good post play on both ends of the floor.

depression thumpasaurus small

big men with knee problems? what could go wrong?

inquisitive thumpasaurus small

Well, that does bring me to my next question. What might go wrong this year? What’s an area of weakness or a real unknown for the Illini?

depression thumpasaurus small

what could go wrong? injuries. arrests. suspensions. team getting discouraged and failing to mesh. sex scandal. who knows.

weakness? coach.

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

As much as he likes to be dour for the sake of dourness, he raises a good point. John Groce hasn’t done much to show me he’s a good basketball tactician. His system of offense requires an elite point guard that can score and distribute, and his failure to land that player has left his offense looking ponderous at times. Point guard play will be a big unknown, as we have Tracy Abrams, a sixth-year senior who hasn’t played in two years due to injury, slated to start. He was more of a score-first kind of point guard when he did play, which was at least better than Jaylon Tate, who is 4 for 46 from behind the arc in his career during Big Ten play. Unheralded freshman Te’Jon Lucas may see some minutes; he’s also recovering from an injury and it’s hard to know what to expect.

belligerent thumpasaurus

THE POINT GUARDS WHO HAVE SPURNED US WILL PAY FOR THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS WHEN MALCOLM HILL BREAKS THEIR ANKLES. MARK MY WORDS, A DAY OF RECKONING IS COMING. BUT OUR OFFENSE MIGHT NOT BE VERY GOOD AT SPREADING THE BALL AROUND.

inquisitive thumpasaurus small

We’ve previewed the starting lineup, but who are you excited about that might surprise people?

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

Aaron Jordan will probably get some time at the 2 and 3 spots, and he showed flashes of long-range shooting that the team had really lacked in recent years. A lineup with Jordan and proven sniper Jalen Coleman-Lands on the floor could potentially make it rain big time.

belligerent thumpasaurus

CHAMPAIGN’S OWN MICHAEL FINKE IS GOING TO BE A CLUTCH PLAYER. HE DID PRETTY WELL AS A REDSHIRT FRESHMAN AND HAS NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP. OVER PEOPLE. TO DUNK ON THEM.

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jaylon tate might surprise a lot of people by making a three point shot.

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Do you think—

belligerent thumpasaurus

NO, I DON’T THINK! I FEEL AND I ACT! AND MY FEELING IS THAT THIS TEAM IS GOING TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT! AND MY ACTION IS TO ROAR IT FROM THE HIGHEST MOUNTAINS AND DEVOUR ANY DISSENTERS.

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Well then, that brings me to the big question about this team. Will they make the NCAA tournament? Why or why not?

belligerent thumpasaurus

MALCOLM HILL IS GOING TO BE A FORCE OF NATURE THIS YEAR AND THEY’RE GOING TO OUTBEEF PEOPLE FOR REBOUNDS. OH YEAH. THEY’RE GOING. WITH A PROTECTED SEED.

depression thumpasaurus small

lots of luck would be required. nope, this will be the end of the

belligerent thumpasaurus

ROAR ROAR ROAR ROAR I’M NOT LISTENING I CAN’T HEAR YOU MY EARS ARE NOT RECEPTIVE TO THAT SHIT

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

Realistically, this team has more depth and experience than any Illini team I can remember. They have the post players to match up with anyone, some solid outside shooters and a player that can be an absolute game breaker in Malcolm Hill. He’s a senior and he’s never been to the NCAA tournament. He’ll carry this team there if he has to. Kendrick Nunn is gone, but Jalen Coleman-Lands might be even better. John Groce can rally these guys after the tumult of last season, and I think they get in as a 7-seed and Groce keeps his job and gets to coach the excellent 2017 class he’s bringing in. We should be able to compete with any team in the league. No more of those 30-point ESPN blowouts that make for drink-a-thons

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So, off-topic question: what’s going to be your go-to drink for watching Illinois this year?

depression thumpasaurus small

got to be old grand-dad. when you feel bitter, old and washed-up, you need a bourbon, but not one that will lead you to be mistaken for an intellectual or someone of fine tastes. great for sitting in low light, taking a sip and then looking down into your glass, staring into the brown spirit as though you might see where it all went wrong and where you should even go from here, but only being reassured that it’s too late to start over and this bottle’s your only friend now.

pragmatic thumpasaurus small

I’ll take a nice rye Manhattan or an Atwater Dirty Blonde if I can get my claws on it, but to savor a terrific Illini victory, I’ll have a neat pour of Redbreast 12-year Cask Strength Irish whiskey. Intensely flavorful.

belligerent thumpasaurus

BACARDI 151. ON FIRE.

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Now let’s move along and take a look at the Off Tackle Empire staff predictions

It seems that you are all a little higher on Illinois than the rest of the staff.

depression thumpasaurus small

my opinion wasn’t considered for that prediction

belligerent thumpasaurus

THEY’RE GONNA KNOW WHAT’S UP THOUGH. THEY’RE GOING TO FIGURE IT OUT WHEN THE ORANGE KRUSH TAKES OVER. THEY’RE GOING TO FIGURE OUT WHEN THE ORANGE SWARMS BACK ACROSS THE MIDWEST. THEY’LL KNOW. TRUST ME.

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Thanks again for joining me, gentlesaurs. Don’t forget, basketball season is only a couple of weeks away, so make sure to tune to Off Tackle Empire for all your Big Ten basketball coverage. I’m your host Inquisitive Thumpasaurus saying Oskee Wow Wow and goodbye for now.