Illinois dragged its feet and hung its head low after a 68-78 loss to Michigan, a game that opened up conference play for the two teams. The Illini were competitive in the first half, leading by as many as 7 before the Wolverines took the game over once and for all after halftime. It just looked like Illinois ran out of gas 20 minutes into the game, and from there on out, it was all Michigan. Illinois didn't stand a chance at coming back, even with a home crowd.
My initial thought after this game was that Illinois failed to make halftime adjustments and was unable to beat Michigan as a result. The Illini allowed the Wolverines to penetrate and kick out for threes in the second half. They were getting beat off the dribble, and when they had defenders come into help, they'd get beat by cutting Wolverines who got easy lay-ins. Illinois got crushed in the second half of play.
It seems that at this point in the season, John Groce is really in trouble. The head coach is in his fourth year of coaching the Fighting Illini and has only made it to the NCAA Tournament once, and I can all but assure you that they will not be back this year. Groce has had a lot of excuses for why his team hasn't performed, and a lot of them revolve around misfortunes. Darius Paul goes out and acts like an idiot on a foreign trip to get kicked off the team, various players get suspended last season, and seemingly every player on Illinois' roster has gotten hurt during John Groce's tenure at Illinois. But at what point do we stop making excuses and start putting the blame on the head coach himself?
I understand that teams come out of the halftime locker room cold every now and then, but it's now happened a lot. Illinois has been outscored in the second half in 7 of its last 8 games. At what point does this fall on the coach? You have to ask John Groce why his team can stick with, and even lead, some of the better teams in the nation in the first half, but in the second, the Illini are made into mincemeat. It seems as if the likely answer is that John Groce is being thoroughly out-coached. Other teams know how to exploit his game plan after seeing one half of play, make the necessary adjustments, and all of a sudden, Illinois is losing a game that it should be winning. The Illini come out of the locker room without adjusting and get blown out. That falls on the coach.
Given the likely scenario that Illinois does not make it back into the NCAA Tournament come March, it will be interesting to see whether or not Groce gets the boot. The Fighting Illini have yet to hire an Athletic Director and still don't have a permanent head football coach (they extended interim head coach Bill Cubit to a two-year extension). Given the mess that is the Fighting Illini Athletics program, firing John Groce might not be the University's top priority. So despite what's turning out to be his worst season in Champaign, John Groce could be hanging around for a little while longer. All that we can know is that he better turn things around, and fast.