From the Saturday, Jan. 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …
The WISCH LIST
Tired of bubble teams. Tired of apathy towards a program – and a sport – that I love. And tired of once-demanding fans settling for mediocrity.
Basically, I’m tired of being tired about the tired state of Illini basketball.
As Illinois prepares for its game today vs. Maryland at State Farm Center, the program stands at a crossroads. Fifth-year coach John Groce wants to convince us (or perhaps himself) that it’s headed one way – “We took a step in the right direction,” he said on Wednesday after beating Michigan 85-69 – while much of Illini Nation sees a program that’s stuck in neutral at best.
Or at worst is headed further into the abyss or irrelevancy.
What I see is a team that at 12-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten, may indeed be better this season than it was last year (15-19, 5-13), but is far from as good as it should be. Five years into any coach’s tenure at Illinois, the program should be fully established, not still scrapping just to be in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament, which Illinois inexcusably hasn’t even reached since 2013.
With a healthy, veteran roster this was supposed to be season that Groce proved himself. At least, that’s what his supporters told us. As the Illini have struggled, however, some have resorted to arguing that it’s next season when the Illini will really bust out once its highly ranked recruiting class arrives.
At this point, Illinois has stolen the Cubs’ “Wait ’til Next Year” refrain, and while many fans believe Groce simply needs to reach the NCAA Tournament to ensure his job status for 2018, I don’t.
Merely making the Big Dance as a bubble team wouldn’t be an achievement, it would be a disappointment. To earn another year, I think Groce needs to make the NCAA tournament comfortably – and win a game.