Average winter break for Illinois, first game of semester against Purdue

Illinois+Tracy+Abrams+hits+the+floor+in+anger+after+picking+up+his+third+foul+during+the+game+against+Maryland+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Jan.+14.+The+Illini+lost+62-56.+Columnist+Matt+Gertsmeier+believes+Illinois+loss-win+pattern+is+promising+for+the+teams+next+matchup.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Tracy Abrams hits the floor in anger after picking up his third foul during the game against Maryland at State Farm Center on Jan. 14. The Illini lost 62-56. Columnist Matt Gertsmeier believes Illinois’ loss-win pattern is promising for the team’s next matchup.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

Winter break is over, and maybe Illinois basketball’s mediocrity is as well.

Over the past month, the Illini have gone 4-3, starting the conference season 2-3. It’s nothing too special and it’s only a one-win improvement from last season’s winter break.

But, in my opinion, the Illini are exactly where they need to be.

The break started off with Illinois extending its win streak to six after defeating Brigham Young University in Chicago and Missouri in St. Louis — two games the Illini should be expected to win.

Then, the Illini started its most recent streak — a loss-win pattern.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    It began with the Illinois’ second-worst shooting performance of the season on Dec. 27, which led to being obliterated by 25 points against Maryland. The Illini turned the ball over 17 times against the Terps.

    This game was followed up with an eight-turnover win over Ohio State, which continued the loss-win pattern.

    While it isn’t the greatest of streaks to be on, things appear to be on the upswing for John Groce and the Illini. Illinois played arguably its best game of the season against Michigan, shooting a season-high 64 percent from the field.

    A few major lineup changes prompted Illinois’ 16-point victory over the Wolverines. Maverick Morgan started over Mike Thorne Jr. at center and put up 16 points on an 8-9 shooting performance. Freshmen Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas both played big minutes and had impactful contributions. Nichols dropped 13 points and Lucas had eight assists.

    Groce’s strategy stayed relatively the same in the Illini’s rematch against Maryland. While Illinois lost the game, it was a vast improvement from the two teams’ first meeting as Maryland won this time only by six.

    Now, the Illini travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, on Tuesday to face No. 21 Purdue.

    Playing Morgan more and Thorne Jr. less has appeared to work. But against Purdue, I’m afraid that strategy is going to have to change. Illinois is going to need all the size it can get against the Boilermakers.

    Illinois’ frontcourt is going to have its work cut out for it, managing Big Ten Player of the Year contender and double-double machine Caleb Swanigan. And it’s hard to forget about Isaac Haas as he stands 7-foot-2, 290 pounds and can cause problems for opponents.

    Despite not being the player he was a season ago, Thorne Jr. is going to have to play and do the best he can to bang with those bodies down low. Anything that will help soften the blow that is the anticipated Boilermaker beat down.

    I would like to see Groce stick to his newly-developed plan and keep playing Nichols and Lucas. Don’t back down just because you are facing one of the Big Ten’s best teams. Listen to your gut and implement this new rotation.

    The Illini are also going to have to rely on the energy and skill of Leron Black. Illinois has received strong performances from Black in recent games. He recorded 14 points and nine rebounds in his last game. His tenacity is going to be crucial on the road as the Illini are still seeking their first road victory.

    Ultimately, what needs to happen is Illinois needs to continue this loss-win pattern for one more game, because that will result in a win against the Boilermakers. After that, they could start a new streak and lock another win against Michigan.

    Easier said than done.

    Matt is a junior in Business 

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier