Last year’s Illinois Fighting Illini started 10-0, just like this year’s team. They finished an awful 17-15. But those were the Illini of Bruce Weber, not John Groce. With the 85-74 win at #10 Gonzaga last night, the first year coach has now produced the fastest start for a rookie coach in school history.
11 point underdogs, no one gave the Illini a chance. CBS’ Doug Gottlieb called Illinois overrated and predicted the Illini would get thrashed. And many preseason publications predicted the Illini to finish 9th or 10th in the Big Ten.
They were all wrong.
Brandon Paul led the way with 35 points, on 10-16 shooting, 5-9 from three. He spoke of not getting respect. “A lot of people doubted us,” Paul said. “We came into the game as underdogs. We love that stuff.”
The Illini may become the fourth Big Ten team to be ranked in the top ten when the polls come out. Very unexpected given how this team was regarded in the preseason. But the difference is from Bruce Weber to John Groce. Instead of a bad-fit motion offense, it’s a more open attack with MUCH IMPROVED three point shooting. The Illini lead the entire nation in more than 10 treys per game. Groce believes in his players and let’s them shoot; unlike Weber.
Sure Illinois is kinda weak in the frontcourt, but that just beat a top ten team with 7 footers and bigs galore by 11.
It’s safe to say they’ve arrived.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Chicago Tribune.com, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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