Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From the Winthrop Loss

Illinois Basketball

Oct 13, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce speaks with the media during Big Ten media day at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team suffered their first loss of the season last night to the Winthrop Eagles, 84-80 in overtime.

This was a bad loss for the Illini and one that could eventually hurt them come Selection Sunday.

Here are my three observations from the loss to the Eagles.

Lineup Confusion

Throughout the previous two seasons, I have been quick to jump on John Groce about his decisions and his inability to manage his talent.

But, heading into this season I was willing to give him a shot because you can’t deny the fact that this team has dealt with injuries.

We are now five games into the season and already I am confused on his decisions.

The biggest head scratcher to me is the fact that Jaylon Tate is playing 34 minutes.  I knew the previous four games against inferior competition was a farce.

Tate’s stat line at the end of the game read 9 points, 2 assists, 3 fouls and 3 turnovers.  This is below average for a backup point guard let alone someone getting 34 minutes.

Groce’s defense for playing Tate so much is that he was their best matchup against Keon Johnson.  Do I have to remind you that Johnson went off for 38 points?  It was his career high.

That fact that Tate is playing so much when we know what he is capable of just blows my mind.

Illinois Basketball

Jan 24, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce looks on from the sidelines in the second half against the Minnesota Gophers at Williams Arena. The Gophers won 79-71. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

John Groce Doesn’t Coach To Win

As I keep thinking about this bad loss to Winthrop, I keep remembering all of the miscues that Groce had throughout the game.

It all started before the game even tipped off.  Groce doesn’t come into games with the mentality that he is going to force his game plan on the opposing team.

After every game, I keep seeing Groce’s quotes about the game and what happened, good or bad.  It seems like a trend that he says something about Illinois matching up against their competition.

In this game against Winthrop, Groce said that Tate was the best matchup for Johnson.  But, my question is, why are we playing to Johnson’s abilities?

I want Illinois to put the best possible lineup out there, skill-wise, and make other teams play to our strengths.

There is no reason that the combination of DJ Williams, Aaron Jordan and Mike Thorne should only get a combined 25 minutes against Winthrop.  These are three of our best players on the team.

The other massive coaching flaw in the game against Winthrop was timeout management.

With 2:53 left in the game Illinois was up 70-60.  The game looked to be in hand for the Illini and then Johnson scored on a layup.

A simple layup brought the game to an 8-point lead.  There would be no reason for a timeout, but Groce called one of Illinois’ final 2 timeouts.

With 1:08 left, Johnson made another jumper to bring the score to 70-67.  The Illini then brought the ball up the court and Groce used his final timeout with 57-seconds left in the game.

Why would you use your last two timeouts that quick?  There was no reason for these timeouts and it killed the Illini because they needed one at the end of the game.

This was horrible timeout and clock management and it potentially cost the Illini the game.

Mar 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers guard Johnny Hill (1) is guarded by Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jaylon Tate (1) during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers guard Johnny Hill (1) is guarded by Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jaylon Tate (1) during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylon Tate Was Awful Down the Stretch

The stat line for Tate that I mentioned in the first observation was not good.  In 34 minutes he only put up 9 points and 2 assists while also having 3 fouls and 3 turnovers.

Leading up to the homestretch of this game the Illini were winning despite Tate’s below average play.  But, things were about to go downhill.

Tate made a miracle three-pointer as the shot clock was running out with 3:27 left in the game.  This gave the Illini the 70-60 lead.

From that point on, Tate was absolutely terrible and showed why he isn’t a starter at the DI level.

Tate proceeded to give up 7 of the points in the 10-0 run that Winthrop finished on sending the game to overtime.  He also had a really bad turnover in that stretch as well.

Nothing changed in the overtime period either.  Tate continued to get burnt by Johnson and he also had a really bad turnover that led to a breakaway dunk.

Down the stretch in this game, most of the Illinois players didn’t play well.  But, Tate led the way in this debacle and he continued to prove he shouldn’t be starting for this Illini team.

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