Illini basketball fans might as well be patient — for now

The Illini men’s basketball team is introduced before the game against Oregon at United Center in Chicago on Saturday. The Illini have plenty of issues to address if they want to compete in Big Ten play, but the remaining nonconference matchups don’t offer much chance for a resume-building win. 

We’re 10 games into the season, and Illini fans have more questions than answers in regards to what John Groce’s Illinois basketball team is capable of this year. 

Following Saturday’s loss to Oregon at United Center, many Illini fans were left disappointed. The primary sources of that disappointment were the continued struggles of transfer guards Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby, the team’s overall spotty defense and an offensive strategy that stalled in crunch time for the third straight game against a quality opponent. 

These are valid concerns for any Illini fan, especially a third of the way into a highly-anticipated season like this one. After Illinois dropped its third game out of its last four, panic took hold in the Illini realm of social media. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to sports and minor Twitter meltdowns. 

But as Saturday’s disappointment began to fade (somewhat), and the outlook for what awaits the Illini came back into focus, I realized that at this point, a small dose of patience would do us all some good. At least temporarily. 

If you’re desperate for Illinois to have the chance to claw its way back into the Top 25 and prove its worth as a sure-fire NCAA tournament team, you’ll simply have to wait. The remainder of the nonconference schedule offers no such opportunity, with Hampton, Kennesaw State and the worst Missouri team in years standing between the Illini and conference play. 

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    So there’s no sense in carrying over last weekend’s frustration into the final two weeks of the nonconference. There isn’t much to be gained from these three games in respect to Illinois’ NCAA tournament resume, but they’ll provide valuable opportunities for them to get in sync and back on track.

    Watch the Illini in these contests, cheer them on, and look to see if Groce is making adjustments to shore up the deficiencies we’ve seen so far.

    Besides, there will be plenty of stress to be had when the Illini open the Big Ten season with four out of their first five games on the road, their only home game in that stretch coming against No. 17 Maryland.

    Wednesday’s opponent is Hampton, and the Pirates will bring the deepest roster Illinois has faced all year, according to Groce. They’ll go at least 10 deep, and will serve as a finals-week roadblock before the ever-intense Braggin’ Rights matchup with Mizzou on Saturday.

    Hampton brings a 4-5 record to State Farm Center, and has been blown out in its only games against high-major opponents (Syracuse and Iowa). If the Illini play near their potential, they should beat the Pirates easily. If they bring a post-Oregon hangover to the court Wednesday, it could be a different story.

    This season will continue to be a test of whether Illinois can take a solid step forward in its third year with Groce in charge, and there’s no way that test can be passed in its next three games. Chances for redemption will arrive soon enough.

    If the Illini lose any of their next three, then further frustration and panic would certainly be warranted. But I don’t think they will.

    In the short-term, there’s no sense agonizing over where we want this team to be, because they can’t get there overnight. So let’s sit back and see how Groce and his troops respond to disappointment.

    There’s a lot of basketball left to be played.

    Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.