When John Groce removed Joe Bertrand and Jon Ekey from the starting line-up, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu were struggling mightily.
Saturday night against Ohio State, Joe Bertrand and Jon Ekey struggled mightily.
Abrams hit some shots on Saturday. Was he effective? You want more than zero assists from your point guard. Abrams and Jaylon Tate combined for zero assists. Each was credited with three turnovers.
Nnanna Egwu grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds, and John Groce liked that a lot.
Egwu also looked for passes after setting high ball screens. He got those passes, and hit three of the four mid-range jumpers they produced.
Egwu also missed a screen-and-roll opportunity, which found his lob in the hands of OSU's LaQuinton Ross.
Illinois' roster, a mixture of lifelong ballers and programmed robots, continues to write its season-long tragicomic masterpiece. If you enjoyed the futility and banality of Fawlty Towers, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy this team. But what about the recent line-up change? Did it make for better entertainment? Did it improve the team?
If, like most casual basketball fans, you're more interested in offense than defense; the better adjustment would have been a line-up of Malcolm Hill, Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Bertrand and Ekey. Four out, one in. Would Ekey be the one "in?" Well, it would give him a few more chances to finally execute one of those tip-dunks. But maybe Bertrand, the guy who's shown a capability to post-up his defender, would be the "five" man in that line-up.
It would never happen, though. Groce likes Abrams and Egwu defensively, especially Egwu. Like most college basketball coaches, he's a defense first guy.
The other obvious distinction between Ekey/Bertrand and Abrams/Egwu is that the latter pair has a year of eligibility remaining. Whether John Groce hopes to maintain their psychological viability, or envisions them as integral parts of a productive rotation, he's not saying. He's praised their strengths, a lot. Maybe he's critiqued their weakness as well. If so, he flew that criticism under the banner of "some guys" rather than naming the individuals.
YOUNG AT HEART
Paul Klee often observed that losing didn't seem to dissuade recruits, for whatever reason. Bruce Weber's recruiting was at its best when his teams were at their worst. A school record 19 losses in 2008 hauled in BP3, DJRich, JoeBert, that crazy athletic SG brother of the NBA star, superfreak Meyers Leonard, and Illinois Department of Corrections inmate M41652. Abrams, Egwu and Myke Henry followed soon afterwards. Even guys who didn't really play basketball, like Mike Shaw and Abe Djimde, proved eager to sign on.
What do the youth of today think about all this losing?
I asked Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan, who attended the Valentine Sunday's game. Michael attended with his entire family, plus his girlfriend, Artemis. Aaron came with his dad, but also a special friend, Sami. I took some pictures of them after the game. Then on Monday, I called both Aaron and Michael to talk about losing, and what it means to them. They were both (characteristically) optimistic.