The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

January 8, 2014

Major challenge for Fighting Illini

(Continued)

Being a little bit of an older team with eight players that are either in their junior or senior seasons is a benefit, Groce said.

“They are really gifted offensively,’’ he added. “A little more unique offensively maybe than some of his other teams.’’

The Badgers are averaging 75.1 points per game this season, which four points per game more than any Wisconsin team has averaged under Ryan in 13 years. And Wisconsin is doing it with a well-balanced unit. Sam Dekker leads the team at 14.1 points per game, followed by Frank Kaminsky (13.5), Ben Brust (12.8) and Traevon Jackson (10.5) are all in double figures while fifth starter Josh Gasser (8.7) is also right there.

That starting unit has combined to average 59.6 points per game, while the Illinois starting five of Rayvonte Rice (18.7), Tracy Abrams (12.9), Joseph Bertrand (11.0), Jon Ekey (8.4) and Nnanna Egwu (7.9) are right there at 58.9.

“There is a lot of talent on that team,’’ Ryan said. “We know what we are in store for. They are one of the better team in the league. They are playing extremely well together.’’

But Ryan doesn’t seen this Fighting Illini team as being young with their starting five being all juniors and seniors, he sees it more as inexperienced in Big Ten action.

“Their veterans have done a good job with their young players,’’ he said.

Groce believes that playing six non-conference games away from the State Farm Center, including five outside the state of Illinois, has gone a long way toward getting this group prepared for its first Big Ten road contest of the year.

“Our team has made a lot of progress,’’ he said. “I think the non-conference schedule really helped us. I thought it make us closer. We played a lot of different teams and a lot of different styles. I think that really helped our team in term of its growth.’’

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