Illini's Groce hopes for hot postseason


Share
Originally Posted Online: March 12, 2013, 8:38 pm
Last Updated: March 13, 2013, 12:07 am
Comment on this story | Print this story | Email this story

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — First-year Illinois coach John Groce's teams have a way turning it on for the postseason.

In Groce's four seasons at Ohio, the Bobcats went to the NCAA tournament twice, racking up wins over Georgetown in 2010 and Michigan in 2012 before losing a close one to North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

He's about to find out if his Illini have that kind of postseason fire in them.

Illinois (21-11, 8-10 Big Ten) opens the Big Ten tournament Thursday as the No. 8 seed against No. 9 Minnesota. With wins over Indiana, Gonzaga and Ohio State among its 21 victories, Illinois is a good bet to get to the NCAA tournament, but a win or two in Chicago couldn't hurt and might help build momentum for a team that lost three of its last four regular season games.

Those Ohio teams that made noise in March started by winning the MAC tournament in both 2010 and 2012.

Groce didn't have a very clear answer for questions about what kind of mindset it took for those Bobcat teams to peak at the right time to make nice post-season runs.

'Physically loose and mentally tight, or focused,' is how he tried to explain it Tuesday.

But he downplayed the possibility that a great run of momentum was even necessary for a team to make that kind of run.

'If they think a win a month ago or a loss four or five days ago is going to have anything to do with Thursday's game at 11 a.m., then we're not very mentally tough,' Groce told reporters. 'If you lack toughness in March, then that's a problem.'

Groce has emphasized the need to be mentally tough since he arrived in Champaign a year ago, and his Illinois team's toughness has been a source of concern since long before he arrived.

The ups and downs the team went through before he arrived — particularly players like Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey, seniors this year — have been well chronicled. Illinois has been to one NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons, and one National Invitational Tournament. They've also endured the collapse last season that sent Bruce Weber packing for Kansas State and brought Groce to town.

Just this season they've rattled off those upsets over some of the country's best teams and won the early-season EA Sports Maui Invitational. And lost at home to Northwestern while barely surviving Nebraska.

The most immediate problem for Illinois, the one that was most obvious in losses to Iowa and Ohio State in the final two regular-season games, was shooting. The Illini weren't very good at it — hitting just 31.6 percent of the shots.

'Part of it is we got some good shots we didn't make,' Groce said. 'Part of it is Ohio State is top 10 in the country defensively. ... And then Iowa has kind of made their calling with their defense.'

While Illinois can be a challenge to figure out, Minnesota is downright confusing.

The Gophers (20-11, 8-10) beat Illinois by 17 in Champaign back in early January, when they were No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25. Since then, they've fallen well out of the Top 25, and now they've lost six of their last nine, including back-to-back games against Nebraska and Purdue to finish the regular season.

Groce said Tuesday that there's at least a chance that Joseph Bertrand will be back for Illinois by Thursday. The redshirt junior guard missed last Sunday's loss at Ohio State with a shoulder injury. If he can't go against the Gophers, Groce said, Bertrand should return on Friday if the Illini advance to play Indiana.

Bertrand is usually Illinois' best bet to ignite the team off the bench. He averages 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 23 minutes a game.

If Illinois finds a way past Minnesota Thursday, the Illini would have the benefit of recent experience on their side. They played three games in three days at the Maui Invitational, and a win Thursday would mean facing the Hoosiers less than 24 hours later. In those situations, Groce said, coaches tend to give players less pre-game instruction and let them play a little more loosely.

'I think you've got to be careful saying you want them to play totally instinctively and not think at all,' he said. 'I don't think you want them overthinking, either. ... You probably water it down. You don't have a lot of time.'
















 



Local events heading








  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.


(More History)