The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

March 14, 2013

Illini breaking from past

CHICAGO —  It doesn’t matter if it happened last month or last week.

Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce knows his Fighting Illini are going to have to play well in today’s Big Ten Tournament opener against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

“They know they have played good basketball, at times, and when they do — they play the right way — they can beat about anybody. And when they don’t, we can get beat by about anybody,’’ said Illinois coach John Groce, who led his 2010 and 2012 Ohio teams to Mid-American Conference Tournament titles. “That’s good, they have learned that.

“They have been locked in, with a little extra focus here in March.’’

So the fact that the Illini (21-11 overall, 8-10 in the Big Ten) lost three of their final four regular-season games shouldn’t matter.

Nor should the fact that Illinois won at Minnesota, 57-53, on Feb. 10 or that the Golden Gophers won 85-67 at the Assembly Hall on Jan. 9.

“If they think a win a month ago or a loss four of five days ago is going to have anything to do with Thursday’s game at 11 a.m., then we are not very mentally tough,’’ Groce said. “We don’t understand what this is about and we lack toughness. That’s a problem in March.

“We can’t control any of that, it’s gone.’’

But what Illinois does control is its postseason fate.

While most prognosticators have the Illini firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, a good showing this weekend wouldn’t hurt.

“Our ultimate goal is the NCAA Tournament, but we’re not content with just that,’’ Tyler Griffey said. “This tournament is loaded. It’s going to be a rough four days.

“Our total mindset is going up there to win the thing.’’

In order to do that, Illinois will need to beat a 20-win team in Minnesota, upset the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers in the quarterfinals, then more than likely beat a team in the semifinals that they lost to twice this season (Michigan or Wisconsin) and after all of that, beat at top-10 rated team in either Ohio State or Michigan State.

That’s a pretty daunting task for any team in college basketball.

“We need some guys to step up and make a few more plays,’’ Groce said. “They can. They’ve done that and I’m confident they have the capability to do it.’’

And earlier this season, Illinois captured the EA Sports Maui Invitational, beating USC, Chaminade and Butler in a span of three days.

“The one thing we did in Maui is that we didn’t worry about the opponents ahead of our first one,’’ he said. “That’s what we have to do right now. Our focus has to be on Minnesota. We can’t worry about how many games we have to play or who we have to play next.

“This game is going to be about mental toughness and physical toughness.’’

And the latter might be the most important considering that the Golden Gophers feature a very imposing front court of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams.

Those two are combining to average 20.5 points per game and 13.9 rebounds a game, but Williams did not play when Illinois beat Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“Rodney is really talented player, elite-level athlete,’’ Groce said. “He certainly changes their team. We have to keep him off the glass and we can’t let him make highlight plays in transition.’’

The Golden Gophers also feature a backcourt of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman, those three are combining for 33.2 points a game.

But, it was Coleman, who scored a career-high 29 in Minnesota’s win at the Assembly Hall and he managed just 3 points in the loss at home.

“We are pretty used to their personnel,’’ Illinois senior guard D.J. Richardson said. “The game plan should be pretty much same for them as it has been this year, considering its going be our third time playing them.

“Rebounding is something that Minnesota does a good job with and the first time, they did a good job of transition. We have to be prepared for that.’’

A big key to the success of the Illini this weekend will be Brandon Paul.

While, the senior guard is shooting just 37.2 percent (32-of-86) from the field and just 16-of-51 behind the 3-point arc, Groce said the former standout from Gurnee Warren has played his best basketball.

“Some people will look at scoring, percentages and all of those things,’’ Groce said. “I’m looking at it more holistically. I’m looking at body language, attitude, leadership, defense, rebounding, sharing the ball. He has done a lot of those things really well.

“Obviously, we need him to plays for us and I’m confident that he can.’’

And Paul is one of seven Illinois players from the Chicagoland region and will be basically playing at home this weekend in the United Center.

Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams and sophomore center Nnanna Egwu are also from the Windy City and the Illini have enjoyed their previous trips to the United Center for the Big Ten Tournament.

Illinois won the 2003 and 2005 Big Ten Tournament titles in Chicago and the Illini are 15-5 all-time in Big Ten Tournament games at the United Center, which is sold out this weekend with the exception of a few standing-room only tickets.

“I’ve heard it’s a hard ticket to get,’’ said Groce with a smile.

Today’s opening-round game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 or WDNL-FM 102.1.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • SPT - CN0821 - GeoRF photo 1 Realizing potential GEORGETOWN — Ask almost anyone in Vermilion County about the Georgetown-Ridge Farm football team and the typical response you will get will talk about their talent.And this season is no different.The Buffaloes return 10 starters from last year’s play

    August 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Vikings compete in Classic BLOOMINGTON — The Danville boys golf team ended up 22nd as a team at the Raider Classic at the Den Golf Course on WednesdayReed Krynski led the Vikings with a score of 91 on the par 72 course, with Christian Montgomery scoring a 97, Tristan Wolfe an

    August 21, 2014

  • SPT - CN0820 - BisHenn photo 1 Going the extra mile BISMARCK — Bismarck-Henning coach Mark Dodd has really enjoyed the last few years.Not just because of the two straight Vermilion Valley Conference titles and a almost three-year unbeaten run in regular season action, but because of working with playe

    August 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • LOCAL ROUNDUP: Trojans defeat Chargers in volleyball opener CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. — It took all five sets but the Covington Lady Trojans opened the year with a hard-fought 24-26, 25-22, 25-21, 19-25, 16-14 victory over the North Montgomery Chargers in prep volleyball action on Tuesday night.Brooke Ahrens led t

    August 20, 2014

  • SPT - CN0819 - Seeger photo 1 Patriots make changes WEST LEBANON, Ind. – Success for the Seeger Patriot football team this season will depend on two things.They will rely on technique and teamwork to reach their goals.“We’ve got a little bit of size, a little bit of speed and a few guys with a lot of

    August 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • B-H's Warren claims Urbana Kick-Off Classic URBANA — Bismarck-Henning’s David Warren kicked off his senior season in style, winning the Urbana Kick-Off Classic at the Urbana Country Club.Warren shot a 4-over 76 to earn a one-stroke victory over Champaign Centennial’s Isaac Overman (77), while

    August 19, 2014

  • SPT - CN0817 - North Vermillion photo 1 Trying to fill big holes CAYUGA, Ind. — Brayden Woodard and his senior teammates on the 2013 North Vermillion football team left their mark on the Wabash River Conference.The Falcons won back-to-back undefeated league titles and they enter this season with a 15-game winning

    August 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • SPT - CN0816 - Fountain Central photo 2 New names, same goals VEEDERSBURG, Ind. — While the names might change, the goals and expectations for the Fountain Central football team remain the same.The Mustangs, who went 11-2 last year with a sectional championship, are looking to replace 60 percent of their offens

    August 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • SPT- CN0815 - Covington football photo 1 Trojans' experience could be key COVINGTON, Ind. – The Covington football team enters this season on a positive note. The Trojans lost only five seniors to graduation, so team hopes to build on its many returning players.“We’re a year old and stronger,” said Covington head coach Tra

    August 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Voles set to host Jamboree DANVILLE — For the eighth year, the Vermilion Voles Vintage Base Ball club will invite other clubs in the Midwest to Kennekuk County Park on Saturday for the “Uncle Joe” Cannon Base Ball Jamboree.The event will feature four teams with the Voles, the

    August 15, 2014

E-edition
NJCAA Tourney Photos 2014


Check out the action at the NJCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament March 18-22 at DACC. Buy photos from the Commercial-News here: http://smu.gs/1iCWKnP

Must Read
AP Video
Johnson: Six Arrests, No Tear Gas in Ferguson Raw: Rescue, Relief Efforts at Japan Landslide Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream Raw: Woman Escorted From Ferguson Protests California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Holder Hopes to Bring Calm to Ferguson Today in History August 21 Holder Pledges Top Investigators for Ferguson US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man Seth Meyers Rolls Out Emmy Red Carpet Obama: World Is Appalled by Murder of Journalist Israel, Militants Trade Fire After Talks Fail Pres. George W. Bush Takes Ice Bucket Challenge Pierce Brosnan's Call to Join the Expendables Changes Coming to No-Fly List
NDN Video
US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Reggie Jackson's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Are Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon Breaking Up? Motorcyclist Sticks Landing This 'Breaking Bad' Reunion is the Most Hilarious Thing You'll See All Day! President Obama talks about who James Foley was Nicki Minaj Unleashes Her 'Anaconda' On the World Watch Helicopter Perform Aerial Ballet Can Buckeyes fill Miller's void? Victoria's Secret Models Prove They're in Fighting Shape How Brian Hoyer Stacks Up With Johnny Manziel Taylor Swift Reveals New Album 1989 is Full-On Pop Crews rescue elderly woman trapped inside flooded minivan Man Poses for New Mugshot Photo Wearing Shirt with Old Mugshot Photo On It Disquieting times for Malaysia's 'fish listeners' Caught On Camera: Johnny Manziel Obscene Gesture Rita Ora Embraces the Ice Bucket Challenge Bird surprises soccer player Ashley Young during game Chapter Two: Never too late to become an artist Ice Bucket Challenge Goes Viral, Raises Over $15M For ALS