The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

March 5, 2013

Illini, Hawks playing for their tournament lives

IOWA CITY, IOWA — Depending on which NCAA Tournament expert you listen to, the postseason fates of Iowa and Illinois could use a little help.

While most people believe the Fighting Illini have secured a berth, albeit a low seed; the Hawkeyes appear to be on the outside looking in.

So tonight’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City will be important for both team’s résumés.

“They are playing for a lot right now, as we are,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said. “That’s a pretty neat thing here in March, you have two teams that are competing, and both teams have aspirations of doing more in their seasons.’’

When it comes to his team’s postseason prospects, Groce prefers not to talk about it.

“That’s carrot has in front of them since the summer,’’ he said. “We are going to keep doing what we’re doing. The important thing is to continue to get better and to play well, so that other stuff takes care of itself.

“I will let everyone else talk about that. We have to be ready to play in a difficult environment against a team that has the same aspirations.’’

But a unique aspect of this game is that it’s the first meeting between Iowa and Illinois since last year’s Big Ten Tournament game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Hawkeyes defeated the Illini 64-61, basically ending the coach career of Bruce Weber.

“It’s a great challenge,’’ Groce said. “Preparing for them this late in the year — a Big Ten opponent, you haven’t played previously — is unique.

“That’s the way the schedule is this year. We have to be ready to do, and be ready to play a good Iowa team.’’

The Hawkeyes have been two different teams this year. The one that plays in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is 14-2, while they are 2-8 on the road.

Indiana and Michigan State are the only teams to beat Iowa at home this season.

“They have played really well at home,’’ Groce said. “They are really deep. Defensively, they mix it up as much as any team we’ve played all year in Big Ten play. Offensively, they push the ball. They are playing 10 guys and that’s going to be a challenge.’’

Roy Devyn Marble, a 6-foot-6 junior guard, leads Iowa in scoring at 14.2 points per game, while Aaron White, a 6-8 sophomore forward, is next at 13.7 to go along with a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.

Marble is the starting point guard, but he’s also played the off-guard and the small forward positions this year.

“He is so versatile. He is a mismatch guy,’’ Groce said. “He has a big game. He’s a well-rounded offensive player. I think he posses that regardless of what position he plays.’’

Illinois, which had five players in double figures during its win over Nebraska on Saturday, is led by Brandon Paul (16.1), D.J. Richardson (12.8) and Tracy Abrams (10.8).

The status of senior forward Sam McLaurin, who turned his ankle in the first half of Saturday’s game, will likely be a game-time decision.

“It’s a mile sprain,’’ Groce said. “Sam has gotten multiple treatments and I’m sure he will try to do whatever it takes to be there.’’

Tonight’s game will tip off at 6 p.m. The game will be shown on the Big Ten Network, while it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.

Illinois will conclude the regular season on Sunday with a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to face the Ohio State Buckeyes, who play the Indiana Hoosiers tonight in Bloomington, Ind.

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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

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