Illinois, ranked No. 23 on Jan. 6, now is on a seven-game losing streak — the school’s longest in 15 years.
So how does second-year coach John Groce handle the slide? Does he kick fannies or dish out pats on the back?
“I’ll only kick fannies if I think it is a toughness situation or a lack of effort or if we get physically manhandled and don’t compete,” he told me Monday.
“That’s only been one time during the seven, and I went at them pretty good. But the other six ... we take great pride in our effort and attitude outside the results. And on Saturday, we played about as hard as we’ve played during my short tenure at Illinois.”
On Saturday, the Illini fell behind Iowa by 21 points at home, rallied to take a five-point lead, then fell to the No. 15 Hawkeyes 81-74. It was the fifth loss during the skid of 10 points or less.
Illinois is still 69th in this week’s rpiratings.com, and has a strength-of-schedule rating of 36. But the fan base has been grumpy, and that irritates Groce.
“People were booing,” he said in the postgame after the Iowa loss. “Ticked me off. I don’t like that.
“You can say stuff about me. But don’t touch my guys. I think that’s unacceptable. Let’s root for Illinois in our building.”
The next chance for Illinois players and fans to get together is Tuesday night. The opponent is Wisconsin, once ranked as high as No. 3 but now a loser of five of the past six games.
That makes this the Big Ten’s “Misery Loves Company’’ game of the week.
Big Ten honors
Players of the week: Northwestern forward Drew Crawford and Penn State guard D.J. Newbill.
Crawford, a 6-foot-5 senior from Naperville, Ill., averaged 23.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Newbill, a 6-4 junior from Philadelphia, averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in wins over Ohio State and Purdue.
Rookie of the week: Indiana forward Noah Vonleh. The 6-10 freshman from Haverhill, Mass., averaged 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in a loss to Nebraska and a win over Michigan. This is his seventh award this season.
Quote of the week
Michigan coach John Beilein, no slouch in the hyperbole division, on Wednesday night’s opponent:
“There’s no team in the Big Ten playing better than Nebraska right now.’’
Stat of the week
Ohio State is unranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in 81 weeks. That was the third-longest streak behind Duke (130) and Kansas (98).