Last night the #23 Illini lost at home to a Northwestern team that has their coach squarely on the hot seat, is reeling from injuries and without their best player in Drew Crawford. The loss was the third in a row by double digits for the Illini, and the three defeats have been even more lopsided than the scores indicate. This shouldn’t be happening to a team that was ranked in the top ten just a few short weeks ago.
1. Three point shooting- entering last night’s loss to Northwestern, the Illini had been shooting 28.4% from three since the win over Georgia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Last night they shot just 15% from behind the arc. Live by the three, die by the three. In November they shot close to 40% from behind the arc. How did they all forget how to shoot at the same time?
2. Defending the three- Illinois came in 11th out of 12 in the league in defending the perimeter. Then they let a scoring challenged team like Northwestern shoot 65% from distance in the first half
Prior to Thursday night’s defeat – a game in which Illinois never even led – the Illini had won 28 of its last 30 vs. Northwestern at Assembly Hall and led the all-time series 129-37. Since 1980, Illinois had gone 56-8 vs. the Wildcats.
But now? Illinois has lost at home to Northwestern in back-to-back years and dropped four of the last six games overall vs. “that team upstate.” For the Illini, that’s a sign of a program heading south. After all, it’s not as if Northwestern has suddenly become some powerhouse. This is still a program that’s yet to make an NCAA Tournament. Ever.
4. Season story arc matching last year’s- After a 12-0 start, the Illini are 2-5. Following an encouraging blowout of #8 Ohio State at home, the Illini have not been competitive in any game since. Last year they started 10-0 and 15-4, 3-1 in conference. Following an exciting home win over a top 5 Ohio State team, Illinois finished 2-12 and Bruce Weber was fired. History is repeating.
5. Tyler Griffey- He lost his starting spot because he plays like a 6’10″ shooting guard. He doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t do anything inside, he just takes and misses a lot of threes. He’s degenerating into Mike Tisdale 2.0 right now.
6. D.J. Richardson– His season shooting percentages are the worst of his career. Already mired in a terrible shooting slump which has lasted well over a month, he went 1-7 from three and 2-9 from the field last night
7. Brandon Paul’s inconsistency- It seemed he took a step forward this year…in November/December, even winning a national player of the week award. Now he’s back to the ups and downs of last season. He was 5-21 from the floor versus Mizzou, 1-11 versus Wisconsin. He’s still scoring every game, but he’s back to turning the ball over all the time, he had 6 TOs last night.
8. Rebounding margin- they’re even worse than NU in this department, and Northwestern is traditionally the league’s worst. Illinois got absolutely hammered on the glass by Purdue, Wisconsin, Auburn, and Missouri
9. Defensive toughness- Illini basketball seems to have forgotten how to defend, and their lack of defense is eliminating all their opportunities for transition. When you add it all up maybe it wasn’t so much the fault of Bruce Weber after all?
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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