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Time for new blood at top of Illinois basketball program

Someone once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If that is true, then consider the Illinois athletics department completely insane these days.

Well, that is if they actually stick with John Groce as the men’s basketball head coach. Illinois did what Illinois seemingly always does under Groce — get blown out in the Big Ten tournament and await their fate in the NIT. This year it was a 20-point loss to Michigan in the second round of the tournament that sent the Illini back from Washington, D.C. early.

It is hard not to notice a disturbing pattern with Groce’s team. After all, his Illini teams have made just one NCAA tournament appearance and that happened in his first season in Champaign.

Since that 23-win season, the Illini have never topped 20 victories again and have lost an average of 15.2 games over the last four years.

Anyway you slice it, that isn’t good at a program like Illinois.

Oh, and there’s the fact that Groce is the only head coach since Gene Bartow to have a losing record in Big Ten play. Bartow lasted just two seasons (1974-75), while Groce has put together a dismal 37-53 (.411) record.

The last four coaches? They won at a .528 percentage clip. Sure, some of that winning was done courtesy of coaches willing to play fast and loose with the NCAA rulebook. Groce certainly isn’t one to do that.

However, there are plenty of coaches who do things the right way in recruiting and within the NCAA rulebook and are also winning basketball games. Being a nice guy only gets you so far.

That brings us to the biggest issue for the Illini basketball program and the administration in general. Few seem to have their pulse on the real problem at hand, while excusing away losing basketball at one of the most proud programs in the country.

It is hard to not notice the “next year will be different” mentality amongst some in the administration and fanbase. Excuses were made for the 2013-14 season as the program saw so many transfers in and out and lost a lot of talent from the NCAA tournament team.

The next season was supposed to be different, but it wasn’t as the Illini once again went to the NIT tournament. No doubt injuries like the torn ACL for Tracy Abrams, the broken hand for Rayvonte Rice and a retinal tear for Aaron Cosby played a role.

So, the 2015-16 season was supposed to be different. Except that it wasn’t and the two classes full of great recruiting talent have had plenty of opportunities to succeed.

Except that they haven’t been able to do that as a team and the 2015-16 season saw Abrams out injured for the year again. Other players suffered injuries too and Groce was given one more year to put it all together.

2016-17 was going to be the year for the Illini…except that didn’t happen. The Illini couldn’t even get to .500, even in a bunched up Big Ten this year. That alone should be all athletic director Josh Whitman needs to know about Groce’s program.

The reality is Groce has been given more time than any coach in America to deliver a consistent winner. He also has been blessed with plenty of talent from the recruiting trail.

All the tools to succeed have been in place. It is time for the excuses and “wait until next year” mentality to stop.

Groce may be a great guy, but if you can’t be a consistent winner at Illinois, you’re doing it wrong.

Now we’ll see if the administration can right that wrong or if it will continue to stick its head in the sand.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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