A star scorer, a hot start and plenty of hope — it is what non-conference basketball has always been about under Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce.
Disappointing the Illini faithful — that’s what Big Ten play is for. It was also what was on full display as the Illini were dropped by Maryland 84-59 in amazingly awful fashion.
Maryland’s big name, Melo Trimble, went off for 20 points. He wasn’t alone though, as the Terps were allowed to shoot a crazy 56 percent from the field and own the paint (48-24) on the night.
However, this wasn’t last season’s Big Ten title contending Terps that took down Illinois either. Instead, Maryland featured three freshmen and two bench players in the starting lineup. The Terps also had three of their best big men on the bench due to injuries leading up to this game.
It wasn’t much of a game either, as Illinois got no one to come along for the ride with Hill. The veteran all-Big Ten performer put up 21 points, but the rest of the team couldn’t find the bottom of the basket to save their lives.
Illinois shot just 35.6 percent from the field on the night, and the needed production from guard Tracy Abrams couldn’t be found (1 of 10 from the field).
But, shouldn’t this have been the expected result from the Illini? It’s been the exact same pattern under Groce for his entire tenure in Champaign.
You know, look like world beaters in non-conference play and then implode against anyone and everyone in conference play. It all started in his first year, where the team went 23-10 overall, but just 8-10 in the Big Ten.
Since then, Groce’s best Big Ten season was a 9-9 effort by his Illini in the 2014-15 season. it was also the year they started the season 10-3 in non-conference play and wound up in the NIT tournament largely because of a 3-6 start to the B1G portion of the schedule.
That season saw the Illini fail every big test it took, much like this one to date.
Will this be just another typical season under Groce? It may be really early, but all signs point to a team just simply not equipped well enough to compete with the best of what many believe is a down Big Ten conference.
If that was a down Maryland squad, then how far down the pecking order are the Illini after a 25-point butt kicking?