(USA Today Sports Images)
There is no better place to begin a discussion about Illinois' losing streak than the 3-point line.
The 23rd-ranked Illini lost their third straight and for the fourth time in past five outings Thursday night at home against Northwestern 68-54 after making just three of 20 attempts from behind the 3-point line. Over those five games, Illinois has made 26 of 111 attempts from behind the arc. That's a 23 percent success rate and it's somewhat inflated by the team having made 10 triples in one of those games and still losing.
It's probably not a great strategy to continue shooting more than 20 3-pointers a game when they aren't going in, but it's understandable that the Illini keep firing away because at one pointer earlier in the season, they were shooting at a much higher percentage.
Illinois will slide out of the top-25 next week after being ranked in the top 10 just a few weeks ago following a 12-0 start. But this team was always suspect, despite wins over Gonzaga and Butler earlier in the year when more of its threes were falling.
It was easy to question whether the Illini were for real because this swoon is nothing new. Illini fans became accustomed to fast starts fading into also-ran status in the Big Ten late in the season in the latter half of the Bruce Weber era. First-year coach John Groce hasn't been able to stop history from repeating itself leaving Illinois fans frustrated again.
That frustration could grow significantly in the coming weeks if something doesn't change for Groce and his players. The Illini play a very a winnable game Saturday at Nebraska – some might say it's a must-win – but then face four ranked teams in the next five games, showing just how difficult the Big Ten is this season.
Three days before Christmas Illinois was ranked 10th in the nation and lost its first game of the season to Missouri in the annual Braggin Rights game in St. Louis. Less than a month later, Illinois is on the verge of falling out of the top-25 and already has sunk nearly to the bottom of the Big Ten. That's how fast a team can lose its way when shots aren't falling.
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