Illinois, one of the nation’s best to start the season, won its first twelve games, including an impressive 78-61 victory over the Butler Bulldogs on Nov. 21, a great road win at the then No. 10 Gonzaga Bulldogs. The hot start gave first year head coach John Groce and his program to a No. 12 ranking in the AP poll earlier this season.
However, that seems like a long time ago for Groce and Illinois fans.
The Illini have dropped six of its last nine games and are currently tied for ninth in the Big 10 conference. They do own the 29th best RPI ranking, which the NCAA Tournament holds in high esteem during the selection process. However, they also take into account how teams finish the season and at this point of the season Illinois are in a huge slump.
In their six defeats, Groce’s squad has given up 75.0 points per game, allowed teams to shoot a combined 46.4 percent (157-338) and has given up on average 12.6 offensive rebounds per loss.
The bad news is three of Illinois’ next four games are against the Michigan State Spartans, Indiana Hoosiers and Minnesota Golden Gophers. The good news is that the Illini can easily increase their tournament resume and move up the Big 10 standings in the process with some quality performances.
Groce must be concerned that if the Fighting Illini’s defense continues to allow teams to score at will against them, they will most likely be on the bubble at tournament selection time leaving their fate in the selections committee’s hands.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo