My One Big Problem With Groce This Season

Illinois v MiamiTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The good news for this young Illinois basketball team is that it’s playing in the postseason. The bad news is that the postseason is the NIT. And the frustrating news is that I think it could have instead been the NCAA Tourney, if only a few buttons had been pushed earlier.

And, yes, John Groce, I am looking at your trigger finger.

Overall in Year 2 of the Groce Era in Champaign, I was pleased with the Illini coach’s job. As he works to stabilize and strengthen his roster for the long term, he’s been forced to deal with a lineup that’s long on inexperience and short on shooting. Throughout this season, he didn’t allow the Illini’s spirit or effort to falter, even during an eight-game losing streak. And yet again, he has his team peaking down the stretch when games matter most.

But my beef with Groce for 2014-15 is that he didn’t peek down his own bench earlier this year. Because I do believe that if he had inserted freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup in place of fifth-year seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand a little earlier, Illinois very possibly would have nabbed the one or two more Big Ten wins it needed to be selected for the Big Dance.

And while I’m surely not the only to hold that theory, I am the one who has crunched the numbers to help back it up.

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