The 3 Biggest Issues The Slumping Illini Are Fighting

The Illinois Fighting Illini started 12-0, catapulting themselves into college basketball’s top 10 and bringing first-year head coach John Groce “Coach of the Year” chatter.

But the team has dropped four of its last six games, and they likely would have been out of the next set of Top 25 rankings if it weren’t for their dominant win over #8 Ohio State at home last weekend.

So what exactly is wrong with Bruce Weber’s former boys? I’ve narrowed it down to 3 main factors …

The Illini just haven't been good enough where it counts of late. Credit:

The Illini just haven’t been good enough where it counts of late. Credit:

1. Reliance on Low Percentage Offense

If you follow the Big 10 or Illinois to any extent, you’ve probably heard analysts discuss at great length how U of I had dominated from behind the 3-point arc early in the season. That they were, as they led the entire nation in that department.

But in their four losses since the 12-0 start, the team has gone 23 for 96 from deep … or 24%. And 18 of those 23 makes came in the first two of the four losses, so it’s not like each of those games were extreme examples; instead they average together to be a pretty fair sample size.

If there is one conference in America this year that you don’t want to have to completely rely on the 3-pointer in, it’s the B1G, which is stocked with six ranked teams plus a couple more solid squads.

The rest of Illinois’ B1G schedule is going to be full of physical games. The competition isn’t just going to start playing into their hands and leave the outcome up to an outside shooting contest. So the fact that the Illini are 288th in the nation in assists could continue to haunt them.

In such a brutal conference that prides itself on a tough, bruising style of play, how could a team that relies on low-% offense combat their inevitable struggles? Well obviously with good rebounding. Unfortunately, that’s my next factor on the list of Illinois’ problem areas.

2. Lackluster Rebounding

This category is fairly simple. The Illini just don’t rebound the basketball. Some of that is probably because they take such low percentage shots, but since that is not something that’s going to change, you can assume the rebounding won’t eitherSpecifically, Illinois is 169th in the nation in rebounding, pulling in just 35.4 of them per contest.

The team’s leading rebounder is actually star scorer Brandon Paul, who corrals 4.9 boards per game. Their main two big men, sophomore center Nana Egwu and senior power forward Tyler Griffey, combine to average just 7.4 rebounds per contest. That’s quite lackluster compared to the 14.5 from Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, 14 from Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, and 14.7 from Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Adrian Payne, and so on.

What this means is that the rest of the Big Ten’s best teams’ big men grab about twice as many rebounds as Illinois’ big boys do. That’s what I call a worrisome statistic.

3. Predictability

The most notable way in which the Fighting Illini are too predictable is obvious: the 3-point shooting. They shoot 25 of them per game, compared to Indiana’s 18, Michigan’s 19.75, and Minnesota’s 15.75, for reference. So opposing defenses can and will continue to focus on closing in on the deep shooters. If the Illini are held to a less than stellar performance from behind the arc, more often than not it’ll be tough for them to be much better than a .500 team in B1G play – especially considering they’re already 1-3.

The other way in which the Illini are too predictable is when it comes to their offensive options, which are few and far between.

Sure, "@BP3" has big game ability, but will that suffice? Credit: AP

Sure, “@BP3” has big game ability, but will that suffice? Credit: AP

When you think of Illinois’ offense, you think of Brandon Paul.

The former Illinois High School Mr. Basketball is averaging 18.1 PPG in his senior campaign in Champaign, highlighted by his 35 point effort at Gonzaga earlier in the season. He’s struggled a bit from the field of late, but he has gotten some points in garbage time of recent games to garner respectable stat lines. Regardless, he’s a pretty good bet to be at or near the 20 point mark with regularity.

But when Paul doesn’t boast a good FG%, and doesn’t get to the free throw line as much as he usually can, Illinois needs other guys to step up. Outside of DJ Richardson hitting shots from deep and the occasional big game from Tracy Abrams or Joseph Bertrand, they don’t really have much generators on offense.

And again, in the brutal Big Ten, you need options.


I’m not sure the Illini will be able to overcome these struggles, per se. They will have plenty of games in which they light it up from downtown as a team and/or Brandon Paul goes off. And even when this doesn’t happen, they can still get wins over teams like Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State.

I see the Illini going 8-6 from here on out in Big Ten play and finishing with a .500 in-conference record. If they can win a game or two in the B1G tournament, that’ll probably be enough to get them into the dance come March.

But in order to do so, they need to combat some of the issues I’ve pointed out, or they will not be able to compete with the upper echelon teams in the conference.

About Zach Gropper

Zach Gropper is a sports broadcasting major at Indiana University in the beautiful town of Bloomington, IN. He is from Flossmoor, IL, a small Chicago suburb.
Zach was was the sports director for WHFH 88.5 FM Flossmoor his junior year of high school and Television Station Manager of Viking Television during his senior year.
He runs a White Sox blog at and also contributes and reports for Last summer, Zach interned for ESPN 1000 AM Chicago, working on programming for the Waddle and Silvy Show.
He is currently eager to get out into the professional world of sports media, wherever that may take him.


  1. You’re focusing too much on the offensive end. Yeah, they’ve been volatile on offense and they’ll continue to be. The offense isn’t without faults, and maybe this is what we have to expect from Illinois on offense, because there are no inside options on this team. But good teams find ways to win when the shots aren’t falling, and Illinois has not done that lately.

    It’s the defense that has been the biggest problem lately. Against Minnesota, Illinois shot badly, but it was the poor defense that took them out of the game. But Illinois shot nearly as bad against Missouri and they had a chance to win, because their defense was solid. Minnesota shot the lights out. Part of that was bad transition defense and part can be chalked up to fluky shooting by Minnesota. Minnesota scored 1.5 points per possession when they didn’t commit a turnover.

    You touched on rebounding in general, but it’s defensive rebounding specifically that has been the problem in most of the losses and the “too-close” wins. That is probably the #1 problem with this team so you were definitely correct there.

  2. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.

    Your website provided us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done an impressive task and our whole community
    might be thankful to you.

  3. You are so awesome! I do not suppose I’ve read a single thing like this before.
    So nice to find someone with unique thoughts on this issue.
    Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This site is one thing that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality!

  4. I really love your website.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m
    attempting to create my own site and want to know where
    you got this from or what the theme is called.

  5. Hello there, I found your website by way of Google while searching for a comparable matter, your web site got here up, it looks
    good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  6. Howdy very nice web site!! Guy .. Beautiful ..
    Wonderful .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally…I’m glad
    to find numerous helpful information right here in the
    submit, we want work out more strategies on this regard, thanks
    for sharing.

  7. I was reading some of your content on this site and I think this site is real instructive!
    Keep putting up.

  8. Some genuinely wondrous work on behalf of the owner of this website,
    absolutely outstanding written content.

  9. Wonderful, what a webpage it is! This webpage presents helpful facts to us, keep it up.|

  10. Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  11. I have been surfing on-line more than 3 hours today, yet
    I by no means found any fascinating article like yours.
    It’s beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all website owners and
    bloggers made just right content material as
    you probably did, the net will be much more helpful than ever before.

  12. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is
    added I get three e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thank you!

  13. Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  14. Great post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and
    I’m inspired! Extremely helpful information particularly the closing part :
    ) I deal with such info a lot. I was looking for this particular information for
    a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.

  15. Thanks very interesting blog!

  16. Hey there terrific blog! Does running a blog like this require a large amount of work?
    I have absolutely no expertise in programming but I had been hoping to start my
    own blog soon. Anyway, should you have any suggestions
    or techniques for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off topic nevertheless I just wanted to ask.

    Many thanks!

  17. When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same
    comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service?

  18. I like this weblog very much, Its a really nice place to read and receive information.

  19. Hello There. I found your weblog the use of msn. That is a very
    well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more
    of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  20. I’ve learn several excellent stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting.
    I surprise how so much effort you set to make this sort of
    great informative site.

  21. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

  22. Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote
    and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m
    still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for inexperienced blog writers?
    I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  23. Hi, i believe that i saw you visited my site thus i got here to go back the desire?.I
    am trying to in finding issues to improve my
    web site!I guess its good enough to use a few of your concepts!!

  24. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before
    but after looking at a few of the posts
    I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it
    and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

  25. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your
    next write ups thanks once again.

  26. Highly descriptive article, I liked that
    a lot. Will there be a part 2?

  27. Some really rattling work on behalf of the owner of this internet site, dead outstanding written content.

  28. You are a very clever person!

  29. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m inspired!

    Very helpful info specifically the last
    phase :) I handle such info much. I was looking for this particular information for a long time.

    Thanks and good luck.

  30. Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for supplying this information.

  31. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of
    that, this is great blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.

  32. Good answer back in return of this question with firm arguments and describing all regarding that.

  33. Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the
    issues. It was truly informative. Your website is useful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  34. Wow, this paragraph is nice, my younger sister is analyzing
    these things, so I am going to let know her.

  35. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more
    enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?
    Exceptional work!

  36. Hurrah, that’s what I was searching for, what a data! existing here at
    this web site, thanks admin of this website.

  37. Hello there! I just wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post.
    I’ll be coming back to your site for more soon.

  38. Thanks for sharing such a pleasant opinion, paragraph is fastidious,
    thats why i have read it fully

  39. I’ve been exploring for a little for any high quality articles or weblog posts in this sort of area
    . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this web site.

    Reading this info So i am happy to show that I’ve an incredibly good uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I needed.
    I so much unquestionably will make certain to don’t omit this site and provides it a glance on a constant basis.

  40. Wow, this piece of writing is nice, my younger sister is analyzing such things, so I am going to convey

  41. Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Excellent
    choice of colors!

  42. excellent points altogether, you just won a new reader. What would you recommend about
    your put up that you made some days ago? Any certain?

  43. I love it when people come together and share ideas. Great site, keep it up!

  44. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes
    which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more
    often. Did you hire out a designer to create
    your theme? Outstanding work!

  45. Actually when someone doesn’t know then its up to other users that they will assist, so here it happens.

  46. This web site truly has all of the info I wanted concerning
    this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  47. Interesting post, I am going to spend more time learning about this subject.

  48. Nice weblog here! Additionally your site rather a lot up
    very fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I get your associate hyperlink
    to your host? I want my web site loaded up as quickly as
    yours lol

  49. I enjoy this blog a lot, saved to my favorite bookmarks.

  50. Very insightful post. Your current site style is awesome
    as well!

  51. Nice site, nice pattern, definitely clean as well as
    awesome post.

  52. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog
    loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

  53. Marvelous, what a blog it is! This weblog presents useful data to us, keep
    it up.

  54. I blog frequently and I really appreciate your information. This great
    article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your blog and keep
    checking for new information about once per week.

    I opted in for your RSS feed too.

Speak Your Mind