The Illini’s Confusing Court Combinations

Even though I’d like to consider myself far more than a casual observer of Illinois basketball, click I’ve had an issue this season: More often than not, search I don’t recognize the players on the court.

Nearly every game I find myself saying, generic “Wait, who’s that?!” at least once, as a mysterious new player starts the game or drives to the hoop.

In my defense, Illinois has four freshmen (including one red-shirt) and quite a few new transfers who have been getting some playing time. Also, Coach John Groce isn’t exactly making it easy on us fans to get to know the players, so to speak: He has used nine different starting lineups in 10 regular season games, including the one pictured at the top of this post.

Let’s compare that to, say, Michigan State, a team that is not only an in-conference rival but also the No. 1 team in the nation: By my count, Coach Tom Izzo has used just two different starting lineups in 10 games, and the starters haven’t changed since the Spartans’ second game.

(Admittedly, choosing MSU as a comparison may not be entirely fair — they are the best team in the NCAA currently, and haven’t been plagued with injuries like Illinois has so far this season.)

But speaking as an observer, not having a go-to set of players can make it difficult to get fully behind the team. And, for the players, I imagine it would be difficult to build chemistry.

But maybe switching up lineups has become par for the course for Illinois-based sports. Coach Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks has been switching up lines trying to find a spark, according to the Chicago Tribune, and Joe Maddon didn’t shy away from changing an order or two for the Cubs last season.

In Champaign, Coach Groce is clearly still searching for a winning combination. From his presser Tuesday:

The Illini improved to 5-5 with a win over Yale last night. Perhaps that starting lineup hit the sweet spot and will stick?

We’ll find out Saturday, as the Illini travel to Chicago to take on UIC in the United Center.

About the author: Heather Punke. NCAA Basketball Correspondent. Heather is a Chicago transplant by way of Minnesota and Champaign, Ill. Even though she now resides in Wrigleyville, she still cheers for the Twins and the MN Wild, as well as her beloved Fighting Illini and whoever is on her fantasy football team that week. Heather earned a broadcast journalism degree from the University of Illinois and reported on Big Ten athletics during her time there. Now managing editor for a healthcare magazine, she is also a hedgehog owner and a competitive euchre player. You can follow her on Twitter at @hpunke

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