By Doug Halberstadt
I doubt even Head Coach John Groce would have imagined his Fighting Illini men’s basketball team would be off to a perfect 10-0 start. (The result of Tuesday night’s game against Norfolk State was unavailable at press time.) The Illini are ranked in the top 10 in the country, and Groce is off to the best debut for an Illinois coach in the team’s modern history.
Groce is just the second Illini coach ever — and first in more than 100 years — to begin his U of I tenure with at least 10 consecutive wins. Fletcher Lane owns the best start of any first-year Illini coach. He won his first 12 games during the 1907-08 season, although 11 of those 12 victories came against YMCA/Athletic Club teams.
The team’s win over Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., last weekend was the first time in two years the Illini beat a ranked opponent on the road. The win over the Zags marked the second-straight year the Illini have started a season with 10 consecutive wins. Last year’s team started 10-0 before falling to UNLV Dec. 17, 2011.
Groce owes much of the credit for his blazing start to senior guard Brandon Paul. He’s led the team in scoring in nine of their 10 games, including a season-high 35 against Gonzaga. He’s averaging just less than 20 points per game. Paul is not the only one off to a good start this season. Three of the other four starters are all averaging double figures in scoring.
This Sunday, Dec. 16, Illinois will play the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in Champaign and could quite possibly be 12-0 prior to meeting up with another ranked opponent on the road. They face the Missouri Tigers (8-1) at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis Saturday, Dec. 22.
At press time, the Illini are just one of 14 undefeated teams left in Division I and are tied for the NCAA lead in wins as one of just four teams with 10 victories through Dec. 9. The Illini are tied with Minnesota (10-1), New Mexico (10-0) and Wyoming (10-0) for the NCAA wins lead.
If he hasn’t already done so, I’d suggest Groce pinch himself. It’s all true!
From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue