Fighting Illini

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.

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I did something that was new for me this winter, sale everyone. It was a little painful and I don’t really like to talk about it…I watched quite a few NIT Tournament games.

I put myself through that for a few reasons — I love college basketball, buy viagra so why not watch more of it, cheap my Illini were involved, and I wanted to see how, if at all, the rule changes the NCAA was testing out would affect game play.

The 2015 NIT Tournament tested out some potential rule changes for college basketball. Namely, the post-season tournament used a 30-second shot clock (as opposed to 35 seconds) and a larger arc under the basket (3 feet as opposed to 4).

I wasn’t pleased with the NIT in general this year (the Illini lost in embarrassing fashion in the first round to Alabama), but NCAA officials must have liked what they saw overall, as those rules, along with a few other changes, will become a reality for all men’s basketball games this season.

According to the NCAA, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the following changes for the 2015-16 Division I season:

  • Shortening shot clock from 35 seconds to 30
  • Expanding restricted-area arc from 3 feet to 4 feet
  • Reducing time to replace a disqualified player from 20 to 15 seconds
  • Eliminating one timeout in the second half
  • Instituting penalties for players faking fouls
  • Removing ability for coaches to call a timeout during a live ball
  • Changing media timeout rules so any timeout called by a team within 30 seconds of a scheduled timeout becomes the media timeout
  • Allowing referees to review on the monitor for shot clock violations throughout the game
  • Changing shots for Class B technical fouls from two to one
  • Eliminating the five-seconded closely guarded rule
  • Allowing dunks during warmups

So how will all these changes affect the game? It will speed it up, for one, as several of the rule changes (shot clock, timeout changes) were made to improve the pace of play.

The shorter shot clock is most intriguing, as stats from the 2015 NIT tournament (broken down by Ken Pomeroy) suggest that it will lead to more scoring. Mr. Pomeroy also suggests that we may also see more three-point attempts, since the shorter clock may lead players to throw up desperate shots to avoid a violation.

We might also see more zone defense thanks to the shorter shot clock, according to Brian Mull at NCAA.com.

I can get on board with most of these rule changes, even though the prospect of shorter games is kind of sad (I personally would like to spend as much time as possible watching college basketball), but one rule I’m a little sad to see go is the no-dunking-20-minutes-before-tipoff rule. Pregame dunking used to be a Class B technical foul, meaning the other team would get two free shots before the clock even starts.

This weird rule (which SB Nation explains thoroughly) has actually been a game-changer. For instance, last season, a player on North Florida dunked during warmups, resulting in Tennessee Tech getting two free throws. North Florida went on to lose that game — by two points (see the story from Deadspin).

Even though we will miss out on sagas like that of North Florida vs. Tennessee Tech, maybe we can look forward to entertaining dunk fests before the real action starts. And that, in itself, could be make the change worthwhile.

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Coach Crean, Source: sbnation.com

Even though it’s unfortunately still the NCAA basketball off-season, pilule the summer has been anything but quiet for some B1G basketball teams, and for a not-so-great reason: Two teams have released players for disciplinary issues this summer.

The Fighting Illini let go of Darius Paul, a junior forward, who was arrested in August while the team was playing abroad in France. He was charged with vandalism and resisting arrest, according to the Chicago Tribune. This is the second time Paul had disciplinary issues while at Illinois — the team suspended him for a year after getting arrested in Champaign for drinking underage and resisting an officer.

Coach Groce, Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Across state lines in Bloomington, Ind., Coach Tom Crean has also dismissed players since last season concluded. Per the Indy Star, the team released sophomore forward Emmitt Holt after he was cited for possession of alcohol in August (and injured teammate Devin Davis with his car in 2014). The Hoosiers also released two players — sophomore Devin Davis and senior Hanner Mosquera-Perea — for “not living up to the responsibilities to the program” after they were cited for marijuana possession in May, the Indy Star reported.

Even though these players are legally adults, Coach Crean, for one, has expressed that “the responsibility of their behavior falls on me,” a video on Indy Star indicated.

That seems at little extreme. While the staff of the Illini and the Hoosiers can be seen as responsible for the players they coach, since they recruited them to campus…these players are legally adults. I would never expect my parents, professors or bosses to take responsibility for the choices I make outside of the classroom or workplace.

Student-athletes definitely bear a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, much more than the typical college student, and it’s true that most of what these players were involved in doesn’t differ much from what the typical college student does in his free time.

However, most of the now-released players had discipline problems in the past and were given the opportunity to prove themselves to their coaches and teammates.

Paul even said as much in a statement: “I apologize to the coaches to begged me to stay on the right path and gave me a second chance to succeed.”

They were on their second chances, and they blew it. Now, I think all that can be expected is for the coaches of these players to support them as they transition away from the team.

All three former Indiana players have announced they will play elsewhere — Holt at a junior college in Iowa (per CBSSports), Davis at a junior college in Texas (according to the Indy Star) and Mosquera-Perea at East Tennessee State. I hope Paul is also able to find a happy ending and a college home where he can play the game he excels at without the off-court distractions.

And I hope Coach Groce and Coach Crean can get their locker rooms and lineups in order after these unfortunate upheavals and that the rest of the off-season stays quiet, until the season starts and we can hear glorious sounds of the squeak of sneakers and the swish of the net once again.

What do you think? Should coaches shoulder the blame for their players’ off-court actions? Let me know in the comments.

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