The composition of Illinois’ roster resembles a messy sandwich without the crust. The team has a ton of meat in the middle—middle, as in the 2-4 positions (wings and forwards)—but nothing on the edges holding it in.
On the bottom layer, the Illini are completely bereft of size and experience in the post, a recipe for failure in a league that runs out a good half-dozen. Nnanna Egwu, the team’s best interior player, has tried harnessing his post moves but to no luck. Worse than the team that sent Weber out with a pink slip in-hand, Groce’s first team in Champaign is mighty vulnerable on the boards. In all, 155 Division-1 teams own a better rebounding rate than Illinois’ very average 50.2-percent.
Up top, Illinois is without any stability from the point guard position. The team amassed a paltry two assists (not a typo) in its 23-point loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, a reflection of an offensive system that’s become unglued by isolation basketball and an absence of chemistry. Despite a starting lineup that features three seniors, Illinois seems to lack the leadership and mental and physical toughness often representative of veteran-laden teams.
What’s more, neither of the Illini’s two primary ball-handlers plays like a true point guard. Heck, neither of its two primary ball-handlers (Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul) plays like a primary ball-handler. When the guards aren’t turning the ball over as they were in the beginning of the season, they’re heaving up bad shots to overcompensate for the deficiencies inside.
The months of November and December were no fluke for Illinois. Don’t mistake otherwise. John Groce still has a ton of talent on the wing with which to work presently on top of an impressive recruiting class waiting in queue to stabilize the future. But life in the Big Ten has washed away the mascara and revealed a team with more flaws than initially let on.
Let’s see what the newest makeup artist in town has up his sleeve.