John Groce Running Out Of Time At Illinois

    Tuesday's blowout loss to Purdue proves just how far Illinois is from being a contender in the Big Ten, and coach John Groce is running out of time to bring the Fighting Illini to that level.

    March 11, 2017

    Tuesday’s blowout loss to Purdue proves just how far Illinois is from being a contender in the Big Ten, and coach John Groce is running out of time to bring the Fighting Illini to that level.


    John Groce referenced the 1988-89 Flyin’ Illini team Lou Henson guided to the Final Four during his introductory press conference back in 2012. He reminisced about being an assistant coach at Ohio State watching Illinois’ 2004-05 squad Bill Self built and handed to Bruce Weber that advanced to the national championship game.

    Naturally, Groce envisioned himself being the next coach who lifted Illinois to college basketball stardom.

    “Why can’t we become the standard of excellence, or a standard of excellence amongst those teams in the Big Ten, competing for championships?” Groce said back then. “By doing that, then you become a player on the national stage. You become a byproduct of that. Why can’t we do that consistently (at Illinois)? The answer (is), we can.”

    But they haven’t.

    Groce is in his fifth season in Champaign, and four players have been arrested. That number is three more than Groce’s NCAA Tournament victories. He hasn’t had a chance to close that gap because the Illini haven’t been invited to the Big Dance in any of the last three years.

    Groce landed the Illinois gig after bringing Ohio University to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed and was tasked with lifting the program out of the mediocrity that ran Weber out of town. But instead, it has been stuck in a version of basketball hell since Groce’s first Illinois team advanced to the second round of the Tournament. The Fighting Illini are not bad enough to be considered a pushover, but not good enough to compete for a Big Ten title in even what is considered to be a down year in the conference.

    Malcolm Hill is a fine player and is averaging 17.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. But beyond him – and maybe Maverick Morgan – is a group not close to resembling the likes of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head who put the Illini on national stage of which Groce spoke.

    Sure, those players were special and unique and had lofty standards. But Groce believed he could bring similar talent to Champaign and has yet to deliver.

    Illinois currently sits at 12-7 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play following Tuesday’s 91-68 drubbing at the hands of Purdue, dropping it to 6-23 against AP Top 25 opponents since the beginning of 2013-14. The defeats during Illini’s five-game skid against ranked foes have been by an average of 22.6 points.

    “It’s embarrassing to get beat like we did,” Morgan said after the Purdue loss.

    And that defeat proved just how far away Illinois is from being a contender in the conference, let alone becoming a threat nationally. This isn’t what the Illini faithful believed they’d be witnessing in Year 5 of Groce’s tenure.

    That’s why Groce’s leash is so short, and he might need a huge turnaround and a good showing in the Big Ten tournament to save his job. Next season’s recruiting class is shaping up nicely with 5-star center Jeremiah Tilmon headlining the country’s No. 9 class according to Scout.com, and an influx of talent is what Illinois needs to right the ship.

    Whether or not Groce will be steering it remains to be seen.

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