Malcolm Hill recently shared some of the colorful words Illinois coach John Groce spoke often in the early stages of last season, as he broke in a roster filled with freshmen and other new pieces.
‘There’s good news and bad news,” Groce would tell his players. “The good news is we’re making incredible time getting to where we need to go. The bad news is I don’t know where the hell we’re going.”
Those words fit better than ever a 70-61 defeat at No. 15 Miami.
Through six contests, the No. 24 Illini appeared to be well on their way to playing the way Groce hopes they will — faster, more aggressively and with more purpose on offense, without compromising at the defensive end. Last season’s team was an offensive mess, but these Illini (6-1) came in having averaged 90 points per game, fourth-most in the country, and shot a blistering 43.4 percent from three-point range.
But this one — man, was it bad. Playing in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Illini were an abysmal 9-for-35 from the floor in the first half and finished at under 35 percent shooting for the game. It was a disaster from beyond the arc, with the Illini making just seven of 29 attempts (23.3 percent).
Take away the numbers of the Rayvonte Rice and Hill — the team’s best two players combined for 35 points on 50 percent shooting — and what’s left is almost unbelievable.
Chalk up this loss as a reminder to everyone who follows Illinois basketball that becoming a high-scoring, high-efficiency team is going to be a work in progress. The awful shooting — guards Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby were 2-for-20 between them — was merely a reflection of the real problems.
Not moving the ball for better shots, not making strong moves to the rim when the opportunities were there, not working well in certain combinations as Groce went nine-deep and subbed often — those were the problems.
Again, it’s a work in progress.