Four games up and four games down for the Illini. Yes, we know it is early but it is really tough not to wonder if this is the best backcourt John Groce has had during his time in Champaign. He was hired from Ohio after a surprising run to the Sweet 16 when the Bobcats’ offense, led by D.J.Cooper, burst through the first two rounds in March by running a high-powered offense with multiple ball-handlers and shooters. Groce’s first two seasons have been sub-part at Illinois but his track record shows that his offensive system can raise havoc, given the right type of talent. That talent includes ball-handling skills from at least three positions on the floor. After three straight games of scoring 100 games, albeit against weaker competition, the Illini offense looks very promising because of five combo guards who can be dangerous with the rock. The rotation includes Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Five of them have been playing at least 20 minutes game and they provide Groce with multiple options.
Both incoming transfers, Starks and Cosby, shot at least 40% from beyond the arc in their prior lives away from Champaign. Shooting skill doesn’t hurt but it is their ball-handling ability that’s more impressive. Tracy Abrams’ loss for the season could have hurt the Illini because he had a good understanding of the offense after two seasons but Starks and Cosby aren’t too far behind. Let’s not forget that they sat out a whole season after the transfer to Illini and practiced with the team, waiting and chomping at an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the Orange Krush. Remember last season when Rice was terrific during the first 10 games because he was fully prepared after training with the team? Same goes for Starks and Cosby. Speaking of Rice, he doesn’t have to worry about carrying the offense this season because he is surrounded by shooters. Instead, he can play the wing position and take advantage of backdoor cuts and fast-break opportunities. He was a volume scorer last season which hurt his rhythm during key stretches of the conference season – that doesn’t need to happen this year because Groce can save him for crunch time.