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:
#illini Groce: Everything's in play at this point (with lineups). You have to be adaptable.
Ohio State is the team to beat that no one in the Big Ten will.
Minnesota and Iowa are both off this week. But don’t worry Divas; thanks to Michigan and Northwestern I still have to think of clever and interesting ways to discuss a game that’s in all likelihood going to suck. How thoughtful of them. But first, healing our game of the week!
No. 16 Michigan State and Nebraska, 2:30pm on ABC (national) and ESPN2 (selected regions)
I realize there are a few weeks left to go, but this game will essentially decide who gets a shot at the No. 3 Buckeyes for the conference championship. Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy
Armstrong will not have faced anything close the defensive pressure he’s about to endure. Michigan State’s front seven will make it nearly impossible for Armstrong to get running back Ameer Abdullah involved in the offensive strategy, and it’s a shame; he leads the conference with an average of 134.8 yards per game. The Cornhuskers will have to rely heavily on the pass.
The Spartans’ man-to-man defense (instead of a zone) could play in Nebraska’s favor; Michigan State’s aggressive style resulted in 12 flags for either pass interference or holding in their first seven games. Quincy
Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Photo credit: Detroit Free Press
Enunwa will be a huge factor in this game for Nebraska; he leads the team with eight touchdowns on 41 catches for 586 yards. Junior Kenny Bell of the are-you-kidding-me one-handed-catch fame will also be a huge help in scoring; he had 38 yards in Nebraska’s game-winning drive last weekend even with his nagging groin injury.
My take: Michigan State’s defense is too good and Nebraska is too battered. The Spartans are decidedly better than the Wolverines (sorry, Michigan fans). Michigan State sews up the division and probably punches their ticket to the conference championship this Saturday. And now that I’ve said it, Nebraska will probably win.
Michigan at Northwestern, 2:30pm on Big Ten Network
Well, these are two teams are on the downswing. But luckily for Northwestern, they’re playing at home and they’re not coming off a loss (they’re coming off a bye, but still – a small blessing). And Michigan’s offensive line has
Devin Gardner getting sacked. Again. Poor kid is probably getting sacked right now. Photo credit: USA Today
been atrocious. I watched about five minutes of the Nebraska game last week and saw quarterback Devin Gardner get sacked twice during one drive. The past two games – both losses to the aforementioned teams – Gardner was sacked a total of 14 times. And it’s really hard to throw the ball and, like, score touchdowns if your quarterback is constantly on the ground. That was free advice, Brady Hoke.
With that said, Northwestern is coming off what feels like a 16 game losing streak. I honestly don’t think they’ve won a game since a pulled out my fall wardrobe. Since the majority of the running backs are struggling with injuries, quarterback Kain Colter will have to be the one-stop-shop offensively. But they do have a chance to beat Michigan by doing what
Kain Colter looking pensive at The Bean.
others before them have done; attacking the middle.
My take:This is going to be a good game in that it’s two evenly matched (ahem…mediocre) teams squaring off in what should be a game full of missed tackles, sacks and a dropped pass or twelve. If Michigan can score more points than Northwestern, then they win. With analysis like this, how am I now employed at ESPN?
Around the division – COLLEGE HOOPS edition!
Yeah, I know it’s still football season, but I’m so pumped about college basketball right now. I was just forced (at gun point!) to write about crappy Northwestern playing slightly less crappy Michigan in a game that matters to no one outside of Ann Arbor and like half of Evanston (if even). So please give me this moment to talk about actual good teams going places. Thank you.
Columbia at No. 2 Michigan State, Friday at 8:00pm
Michigan State basketball looked like straight up STUDS against the ridiculously talented boys from Kentucky Tuesday night at the United
The return of basketball season means regular mascot photos from yours truly. Here’s Sparty on his way to a foursome! Photo credit: Major Onions.
Center. The Spartans have experience on their side with a pair of seniors and juniors in their starting lineup. They’re poised and disciplined under the brilliance that is Tom Izzo. And they have a great chance to cut down the nets in both the B1G and the NCAA Tournament.
But first they have to get through Columbia which…I didn’t know they had a basketball team?!
No. 7 Michigan at Iowa State, Sunday at 4:00pm
It’s gotta be good to be a Wolverine fan right now. Your football team is sucking just in time for your basketball team to lift your spirits. After an appearance in one of the most exciting and hard-fought championship games I’ve ever seen, the expectations are through the roof. As they should be. Glen Robinson III and Caris Levert’s squad will be right in the hunt with the top teams in the country. And yes they’ll beat Iowa State on Sunday.