Chicago Colleges: John Groce

Weekend Homework: The Illini mess

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
9:30
AM CT
Perhaps Illinois fooled us.

For a stretch in December, John Groce’s program rattled off a promising winning streak. Victories over Missouri, Illinois-Chicago, Indiana and Penn State suggested that the program had gathered momentum after welcoming a variety of new faces.

But Illinois hasn’t been the same since Wisconsin buried it with a 20-0 run during a 95-70 loss in Madison on Jan. 8. A loss at Northwestern, ranked 170th by Ken Pomeroy, followed. Then, the program stumbled again in a 66-58 home loss to Purdue on Wednesday.

“It’s just unacceptable,” Groce told reporters following the loss. “They [Purdue] were tougher than us physically and they threw us around like a bunch of rag dolls. Our guys better figure out very quickly the physical toughness that’s required on the backboard.”

Through Thursday, Illinois is shooting 35.6 percent from the field (last in the Big Ten) and 25.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (12th in the Big Ten) in conference play.

And if that hole isn’t daunting enough, Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State will kick off a brutal five-game stretch that includes road matchups against Ohio State and Indiana, plus a pair of games against contenders Iowa and Wisconsin.

This 2-3 Big Ten start could conceivably morph into a 2-6 or 2-7 stretch.

There were certainly concerns about Illinois entering the season. Transfers Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey, a batch of talented freshmen and veterans Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand were charged with coming together and building a bond on the floor in time to compete in the toughest league in America.

The win over Indiana on New Year’s Eve suggested that they were ready for that. This streak, however, has sent the team in the other direction.

Illinois has to get back on a positive path, or this season could be a disaster.

There’s certainly a correlation between the team’s struggles and Rice’s struggles. He’s 12-for-41 in this three-game losing streak. Abrams has gone 14-for-39.

Illinois won’t recover unless its top two players are effective. But it’s bigger than that.

Something definitely has to change soon.

Scout's take: D.J. Williams to Illinois 

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
10:27
AM CT
ESPN 60 small forward D.J. Williams (Chicago/Simeon) committed to Illinois over a combination of offers and serious interest from Florida, Providence, SMU, DePaul, Michigan State and Georgetown, among others.

Williams, the nation's No. 29 overall prospect in the Class of 2015 and No. 2 in the state of Illinois, is a huge get for coach John Groce and his staff simply because this four-star junior is a nationally ranked prospect from the talent-rich city of Chicago, which is the main recruiting territory for the Fighting Illini.

The state of the Big Ten

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
10:00
AM CT


In recent years, the Big Ten has boasted an assembly of athletes who have boosted the league to the top of college basketball’s conference rankings.

Players who could’ve turned pro returned and granted the league a lineup of experienced players who carried their respective squads for multiple seasons. Evan Turner, Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Draymond Green, Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others had opportunities to sign NBA contracts a year or two earlier than they did. Instead, they stayed and strengthened their teams and subsequently, the entire conference.

Prior to changes at Minnesota and Northwestern this past offseason, only four of the 12 Big Ten schools (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State) had changed head coaches in the previous five seasons. That continuity has fueled immense success for a league that has earned 20 total bids in the last three NCAA tournaments.

There are, however, more questions now.

Other than Michigan State, the Big Ten’s membership enters the season possessing promise but also dealing with a rare uncertainty. Michigan and Ohio State return elite talent, but you can’t ignore what both lost from last season. Indiana could blossom behind some youngsters, but how many teams improve after a pair of top-five picks turn pro? A fleet of seniors have left Madison. Iowa is still a “maybe” to many.

Illinois and Purdue? They’ll either surprise or spend the year at the bottom of the league.

Even with four teams cracking the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll, the Big Ten is somewhat of a mystery as this weekend’s tipoff to the 2013-14 season approaches. Still, there’s plenty of hope for many squads in this league.

There’s just a lot we don’t know (yet) about the Big Ten.

The Contenders

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
AP Photo/Andy ManisTom Izzo has a Michigan State team with enough talent to return to the Final Four.
Michigan State: Tom Izzo has another capable crew in East Lansing this season. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling anchor the Big Ten favorite and national title contender. Gary Harris is a future lottery pick who could campaign for All-American honors. Whenever Izzo has this much talent and experience, his teams usually reach the Final Four.

Michigan: The answer is no. No, the Wolverines won’t replace Wooden Award winner Burke no matter how productive Derrick Walton Jr. is in his freshman season. But John Beilein’s pillars -- Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary -- and his stellar recruits should give Michigan State a serious shot at the Big Ten crown.

Ohio State: Somehow, Aaron Craft is still eligible and available to squash the dreams of perimeter players throughout the country. Without Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes will probably spread the ball around more than they did last season. But LaQuinton Ross -- assuming we see the same player who lit up the Big Dance a few months ago -- might be the star Thad Matta needs to make a postseason run and snatch another Big Ten crown.

The (Possible) Contenders

Indiana: If exhibitions are to be believed, then Yogi Ferrell has become a more dangerous threat from the field since registering a 45.4 effective field goal percentage last season. That matters, but not as much as the maturation of the rest of the roster does (will). How much production will Noah Vonleh and a bunch of inexperienced youngsters give Tom Crean? We’ll find out soon.

Wisconsin: Say it with me three times: “I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin.” Once again, however, there are a few reasons to doubt the Badgers, simply because they’re entering the season without a trio of seniors (Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren) who made a major difference last season, and they’re depending on a point guard who's returning from a serious knee injury (Josh Gasser). Sam Dekker and Co. will probably maintain Bo Ryan’s streak of 20-win seasons (10 in a row) and top-four finishes in the Big Ten.

Iowa: The rebuilding phase is over, folks. The Hawkeyes return every meaningful player from a team that won 25 games and finished 9-9 in conference play during the 2012-13 season. It’s time for Iowa to finally make some noise in the Big Ten race and get back to the NCAA tourney. Fran McCaffery has the pieces to achieve both.

The Questionable

Purdue: The last thing Matt Painter needed was a bout of early drama involving young star A.J. Hammons. But that’s exactly what he’s facing after Hammons was recently suspended for three games after violating team rules. If Hammons gets his act together -- it’s always if with him -- the Boilermakers could sneak into the at-large mix.

Illinois: Same for John Groce’s squad. Groce adds eight new faces to the program. This is a much different team compared to the one that reached the NCAA tournament last year. But if Groce can help transfer Rayvonte Rice become the star he was at Drake two seasons ago, Illinois might make a case for another berth.

The Bottom

Minnesota: Richard Pitino has his father’s last name and hair, but nothing resembling the players Rick Pitino used to win the national title with Louisville in April.

Northwestern: Chris Collins is already making strides in recruiting, but he doesn’t have the beef inside to compete in the Big Ten yet.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a new arena, but Tim Miles’ squad has the same problems.

Penn State: Tim Frazier will have to carry a very heavy load. Again.

Simeon's Williams commits to Illinois

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
8:15
AM CT
Chicago Simeon junior forward D.J. Williams committed to Illinois on Tuesday.

Williams, a 6-foot-7, 203-pound small forward, chose the Illini over DePaul, Florida, Georgetown, Providence, Purdue and SMU.

“From my first time on campus, I was just thinking it was the right move,” Williams said by phone on Tuesday morning. “I’ve liked [Illinois] coach [John] Groce on and off the court. It’s also close to my home. My family can watch me play. The Big Ten is also one of the best conferences in the country."

Williams is ranked No. 28 in ESPN’s Class of 2015 and is the highest-ranked recruit Groce has landed since being hired in March of 2012. Illinois has two top-50 recruits committed in the Class of 2014 and signed two top-100 recruits in the Class of 2013.

ESPN RecruitingNation scout/analyst Reggie Rankin thought Williams could be an impact player in the Big Ten and was another significant recruit for the Illini.

“I think he’s a wing player that can score,” Rankin said. “He’s got great length. He’s got a terrific mid-range game. He’s active and he’s got tremendous upside. He’ll be an excellent wing scorer in the Big Ten. That’s a tremendous get for them, especially from another instate, Chicago high school power.

“I think that now Groce has been there a year and he’s more established that these things are going to happen more consistently. It may not be a steady stream, but I think he’ll be able to get high-level underclassmen early because they’re established there as a team and are doing well and are projected to do well. They also have an excellent class in play in 2014. I think it’s part of Groce and his staff being more established and working their home turf, which is a tremendous recruiting ground for them.”

Williams was optimistic he could attract other top players from his class and help build Illinois into a championship contender.

“I can now start recruiting for the other players to kind of join me,” Williams said. “Illinois is rolling really good. With the players they have coming in and more from my year, I think we can make a big run in the NCAA tournament.”

Williams is the third player from Simeon to commit to Groce. He previously signed shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and point guard Jaylon Tate from Simeon. Both are expected to play for the Illini as freshmen this season.

Simeon coach Robert Smith said he was proud to send players to Illinois.

“It’s one thing [former Simeon coach Bob] Hambric talked to me about when I was younger, about keeping guys at home is always big for Simeon, Illinois and the state,” Smith said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. Our basketball is too good in the state to have everyone leave for other schools. That’s my drive to let other people and coaches know to try to keep our guys home. It’s not for everyone. It’s best for some players to go to Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina because it doesn’t fit here, but we should try to make our basketball rich and good in Illinois.”

Williams has made a number of unofficial visits to Illinois during the past few years. His most recent visit came during Illinois’ football homecoming on Oct. 26.

Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham was the lead recruiter on Williams.

Illinois is also among the final four schools for Chicago Curie senior forward Cliff Alexander, who is ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2014 by ESPN. He will announce between DePaul, Illinois, Kansas and Memphis on ESPNU on Nov. 15.

“Williams’ commitment certainly can’t hurt with Alexander,” Rankin said. “It shows another Chicago high-level player has earned their trust to go to Illinois.”

Williams is Illinois’ first Class of 2015 recruit.

Groce building a contender in Illinois?

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
4:30
PM CT
I had doubts when Illinois picked John Groce to lead its program in 2012 after Bruce Weber was dismissed.

My doubts were really tied to Illinois, not Groce. He clearly had credentials. He’d led Ohio to that season’s Sweet 16, where the Bobcats lost an overtime war to North Carolina. Prior to his tenure in the MAC, he’d spent time under Thad Matta at Ohio State.

Yet, he’d entered a challenging situation. Weber reached the 2005 national title game with Dee Brown and Deron Williams but he never found that perch again. Years of disappointment followed that achievement.

The recruiting battles he lost -- many involving kids in nearby Chicago -- were critical in the team’s gradual decline.

So once Groce took the job, he immediately faced one major question: Can he bring elite talent to Champaign?

That’s the only question any coach has to answer. But Illinois’ leaders have faced even more scrutiny due to their proximity to a recruiting hub named Chicago (although it’s really not that close to Chicago).

Well, Groce’s latest coup proves that Illinois’ spot on the recruiting map has been elevated -- locally and nationally -- since he arrived.

Quentin Snider, ranked 28th in the 2014 class per RecruitingNation, chose Illinois last week, even though some thought he’d pick UCLA (see my colleague Eamonn Brennan’s post on the SoCal recruiting war). But Groce made a fourth-quarter pitch to the point guard that obviously worked.

More on the Snider move from ESPN.com’s Adam Finkelstein:

But Illinois made a late push to get Snider on campus last weekend, allowing it to make a final impression. The Illini followed that up by traveling to Louisville the next day to conduct an in-home visit to help Groce seal the deal.

Snider was a late addition to this year's point guard market after having previously been committed to Louisville for almost two years.

He decommitted on July 31 due to concerns about the number of other talented guards on the Cardinals' roster. In Illinois and UCLA, Snider narrowed his choices to two programs who could provide him what Louisville could not -- an opportunity to run the show from the start.

The commitment is a potentially huge addition for Illinois because it was able to land one of the last remaining point guards capable of making an immediate impact. After Groce's 2013 recruiting class was headlined by a pair of ESPN 100 swingmen in Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, along with an athletic and skilled big man in Austin Colbert, his top priorities in 2014 were to get a post player and a point guard.


Groce’s 2014 class is now ranked fourth overall by RecruitingNation. With Nunn and Hill -- a pair of Illinois kids -- anchoring his 2013 class, UI finished 15th nationally.

Next year could be a tough one for an Illinois team that will rely on multiple transfers and young faces after losing Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Then again, Nunn and Co. could make an immediate impact and push the Illini into another NCAA tournament slot.

But regardless of what happens this season, the talent pipeline is rich. Groce has already proven many doubters wrong. Last season, he led the team to an upset of No. 1 Indiana and an NCAA tournament victory in his first year on the sideline.

If the program’s prospects fulfill their potential and stick around for more than a year, Groce could turn Illinois into a Big Ten player and national title contender again.

That might not seem clear in 2013-14.

But Groce is definitely loading up in Champaign.

Illinois is rising. Quickly.
Jabari ParkerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJabari Parker might have gone to Illinois if John Groce had more time to recruit him.
Simeon coach Robert Smith believes Illinois' John Groce is on the right path as far as recruiting top talent out of Chicago.

In fact, Smith believes if Groce had been hired sooner, he might have had a shot at Jabari Parker.

Groce replaced Bruce Weber, who was fired, after the 2011-2012 season. Parker was already cutting his list of schools and eliminated Illinois from his choices. Parker had a good relationship with Weber, who had been recruiting him for years, but the uncertainty of change didn't sit well with the top recruit. Parker ultimately committed to Duke over BYU, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford.

Parker's teammates, Simeon senior guards Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, are both signed to play at Illinois next season.

"If Illinois had hired John Groce earlier, they would have had chance with Jabari," Smith said. "He was hired too late and Jabari was already looking at other schools. He wanted to play for his home state and win a national championship here.

"[I think Groce had a chance with Parker] because of his personality, him as a coach -- he let his players play -- and his charisma. I know Jaylon and Kendrick love him as a coach and person. I think that has a lot to do with them going there."

Smith believes those characteristics that will lead to Groce receiving future commitments from Chicago's premier players. One of the biggest criticisms of Weber was he failed to retain the state's top talent. Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Evan Turner and Julian Wright chose to play out of state during Weber's Illinois tenure.
Curie forward Cliff Alexander, who is ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2014, is currently one of Illinois' main recruiting targets.

"I think it can happen with Cliff and getting him there and some of the other guys over there," Smith said. "I think Illinois has a real chance in the next three or four years to really do some things. I could see them go to the Final Four and possibly win a national championship in the next three or four years.

"It's just like the vision I had for Illinois when I was interested in the job. It's playing out without me being there. Coach Groce is doing a great job with that."

Groce was given a one-year contract extension and salary raise after this past season. He led Illinois to a 23-13 record, 8-10 in the Big Ten and to the NCAA tournament in his first year.

Groce's 2013 recruiting class is ranked No. 15 by ESPN. The class includes Nunn, Tate, small forward Malcolm Hill, power forward Austin Colbert and center Maverick Morgan. Illinois will also add three transfers -- Seton Hall sophomore guard Aaron Cosby, Illinois State junior forward Jon Ekey and Western Michigan forward Darius Paul.

Illinois reloads on the Paul family

May, 6, 2013
5/06/13
4:07
PM CT
One of Illinois coach John Groce's biggest, or at least most interesting, challenges next season will be how he goes about replacing Brandon Paul. The senior guard had an up and down career, to be sure, and while his senior season was no different (Paul started as hot as any player in the country but finished the year having made just 32.5 percent of his 240 3s), he will be difficult to replace in a variety of ways, namely in the sheer number of possessions and shots he took for his team while on the floor. Paul wasn't always on, but when he was, he was as good as anyone in the country at creating his own shot.

Luckily enough, Groce found a long-term replacement in Paul's own family. On Saturday, Darius Paul, Brandon's younger brother, announced he would transfer from Western Michigan to play for the Illini:

On Sunday, ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers reported that the decision came about because of a "coaching staff change" at Western Michigan and "the desire to play at a higher level, according to his mother." But the bond Groce formed early in his tenure with his embattled senior -- which was evident as early as media day, and paid clear dividends throughout the season -- surely played a large role in the younger brother's decision to choose Illinois over a raft of quality offers, including those from Florida, Iowa State, Marquette, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Nebraska and Nevada. On Saturday, Darius Paul watched his older brother accept Illinois' Most Outstanding Player award at the team's athletics banquet, which just so happened to coincide with his official visit to the school. Good timing.

Anyway, the younger Paul won't really replace the elder. For one, he's a big man, not a guard; for another, he'll have to sit out a year before resuming his final three years of eligibility. But he is a really promising player. Darius Paul averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds and won the MAC Freshman of the Year award in 2012-13, with a particularly impressive offensive rebounding rate (12.8 percent) and some solid interior scoring (and 51 percent from 2) in just his first year. Darius Paul may not have garnered the same recruiting hype as his brother coming out of high school, and he may not be the same kind of player. But it's not a stretch to think he can make a similar-sized impact as Brandon -- and maybe, one day, leave Illinois the better player. Either way, nice get by Groce.

 
AUSTIN, Texas -- Somewhere lost in all the pomp, circumstance, inspirational montages and endless car commercials of the NCAA tournament is the little secret someone forgot to mention to Colorado and Illinois -- in order to win, you must put the ball in the basket with at least a modicum of regularity.

That's not to say the seventh-seeded Illini and No. 10 seed Buffaloes missed all their shots. But each did miss enough -- 11 straight for CU to end the first half; 14 in a row, including 11 3-pointers, for the Illini at the start of the second half -- to build unnecessary and frustrating drama into a game that could have been void of both. (Apparently it is in the contract of both teams that, since this is March, they must provide some madness. And boy, were the coaches plenty red in the face.)

But, finally, the drama came to a close, along with Colorado's season, as Illinois' 16-point lead -- built during CU's horrid shooting stretch -- was enough to withstand a 23-2 Buffaloes run -- made possible by the Illini's putrid shooting stretch -- to eke out a 57-49 win in the second round on Friday.

"It's easy to come back. It is hard to come back and win,'' CU coach Tad Boyle said. "Our scoring droughts are tough to deal with. We played well enough to win today. We just didn't play well enough down the stretch to win.''

It's hard to say Illinois (23-12) played well enough to win, either. The Illini shot 13 percent in the second half. But they pulled it out at the end.

[+] EnlargeTracy Abrams
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTracy Abrams scored 13 for Illinois on 4-of-10 shooting, and added 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
"It was only fitting that the game was maybe as strange a game -- as far as the ebb and flow of it -- that I have been associated with this group,'' said Illinois coach John Groce. "We have done it the hard way with this group a lot.''

"We just find ways,'' said Illinois guard Tracy Abrams.

Now it is time for Illinois to try to find a way to win against Miami, which appears to be about as intimidating as Tony Montana. The Illini get the No. 2 seeded Hurricanes here in Austin on Sunday. So they get to deal with size -- three players of 6-foot-10 or better in the rotation; speed -- Shane Larkin moves like mercury on marble; and an experienced coach -- Jim Larranaga has been there, done that, with much less talent, just a few years ago at George Mason. It appears to be a daunting task for an Illinois program that slogged through the first nine games of its Big Ten schedule at 2-7. Miami started ACC play 13-0, by the way. Oh, and the Hurricanes had a 27-point win over then-No. 1 Duke.

"I know that they have got great size and they are going to play very hard,'' Groce said.

Illinois had its win over a No. 1, too, beating Indiana 74-72 on Feb. 7. So the Fighting Illini are capable. But they also need to be held culpable for their errors. It was those errors -- all 14 of them in a row -- plus a couple of turnovers, that might leave some wondering just how big a mismatch Sunday will be. (Did anyone mention Miami won 78-49 and had nine guys score in the first half against Pacific on Friday? Well, it did.)

OK, there are a few glimmers of hope. Illini guard Brandon Paul didn't improve his shooting percentage -- he is a 40 percent guy -- but did make 9 of 10 free throws, five of which helped seal the game. In fact, for as bad as the Illini were from the field (30.8 percent), they were solid from the line (70.8 percent).

"D.J. [Richardson] was in my ear, telling me to just keeping fighting,'' Paul said.

Then there was the defense and the rebounding. Illinois has now held two tournament teams under 50 points in its past three games -- Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament and Colorado (21-12) on Friday. The Illini, despite giving up 14 rebounds to Josh Scott, were able to win the battle of the boards 37-36. And that was crucial in a game where misses were rampant -- and will be crucial again against the taller, thicker Hurricanes.

Illinois proved it could close. After failing so miserably from the field and falling behind, the Illini finished on an 18-5 run. One might say that they looked into the abyss and didn't blink. Miami looms large; if they can look at the Ibis and do the same, they just might be OK.

Paul gives Illini a fighting chance

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
9:59
PM CT
CHICAGO -- Illinois coach John Groce doesn't preach patience, so it makes sense Brandon Paul wanted his "one shining moment" a week early.

In the first game of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center, Illinois and Minnesota were tied with overtime looming. Paul got the ball in an isolation against Gophers guard Austin Hollins at the top of the key, crossed him over going left and shot a fadeaway 15-footer for the win. The Illinois bench went nuts. The Illinois fans erupted. Gus Johnson went Gus.

March had officially begun.

Read the entire column.

No. 7 seed Illini to face No. 10 Colorado

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
5:47
PM CT
Illinois was selected Sunday to play in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed and will play No. 10-seeded Colorado in Austin, Tex. in the East region on Friday.

The Illinois-Colorado winner will play the winner of No. 2-seeded Miami and No. 15-seeded Pacific in the third round on Sunday.

“Our main goal throughout the season was just to get better every day, putting 100 percent,” Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul said. “3-19-13 (first day of the NCAA tournament) was on our wrist bands, and when we finally saw our name called it was pretty much a blessing. We were excited about it, and we were excited about the challenge ahead.”

The Illini went 22-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. Their quality wins included at Gonzaga, Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota, who they defeated twice. They are ranked No. 39 in RPI and No. 63 in ESPN’s BPI.

Colorado was 21-11 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes’ quality wins include Arizona, Baylor and Oregon. They are ranked No. 38 in RPI and No. 39 in BPI.

Illinois began the season with 12 consecutive wins and shot up to No. 10 in the AP poll. After a 13-1 non-conference season, the Illini dropped seven of their first nine Big Ten games. They bounced back with a win over No. 1-ranked Indiana on Feb. 7 and closed out the conference season winning six of their final nine games.

“They had that (tournament) goal from the very beginning when I met with (them),” Illinois' first-year coach John Groce said. “They really solidified that as something they wanted to do in the fall when we first got together and talked in particular to our seniors. To see that come to fruition in a way they had to grind it out and be really tough at different parts of the season when maybe others doubted them, but I think it’s a great life lesson for our guys. Certainly not satisfied because we have work to do, but I’m a proud for those guys.”

Groce said after Friday’s loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament he was happy with the way his team was playing headed into the NCAA tournament.

“I would like to play two complete halves defensively and offensively. But I like our mindset,” Groce said. “I like our body language. I like our passion. I thought we really competed in this tournament both days. I thought we really played hard. I thought we played for one another. I think the guys are playing the game right way. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward here in the next few days and figure out how we can put together two halves when we’re defending and playing good offense. I think that’s the next step.”

Illinois did not appear in the NCAA Tournament last season and has been selected twice in the previous five years. The Illini haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005.

Illinois fired Bruce Weber after the program failed to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. Groce was hired after taking Ohio to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012 in four seasons.

Groce: Illinois belongs in NCAA tourney

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
3:19
PM CT


CHICAGO -- Illinois coach John Groce said Friday he is confident the Illini accomplished enough this season to be selected to the NCAA tournament.

"At this point, I think we've done what we needed to do, but again that's out of my hands," Groce said following Friday's loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. "We have 22 wins. We play in the best conference in the country. We won seven of our last 11 games. Three of those four losses were on the road to teams who were a combined 51-5 at home.

"The fourth one is to Indiana today, who has been ranked No. 1 in the country more than anyone all season. We play good basketball. We're in a good league. We got six top-25 RPI wins, third most in the country. But again, I don't make those decisions. That's them."

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Illinois in his latest bracket on Friday. Lunardi put Illinois as a No. 8 seed playing No. 9 Oregon in the round of 64.

Illinois is ranked No. 62 in ESPN's College Basketball Power Index. The Illini went 6-9 against top-50 BPI opponents. Their quality wins include Gonzaga on the road and at home against Indiana and Ohio State. They also defeated Minnesota twice, including in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday.

Illinois began the season with 12 consecutive wins and shot up to No. 10 in the AP poll. After a 13-1 non-conference season, the Illini dropped seven of their first nine Big Ten games. They bounced back with a win over No. 1-ranked Indiana on Feb. 7 and closed out the conference season winning six of their final nine games.

Illinois did not appear in the NCAA tournament last season and have been there just once during the career of the Illini's seniors.

"We're looking forward to the (selection) show," Groce said. "I know our guys are. We've had that as a goal since we first got together in the spring. The seniors told me that's what they wanted to do. It's pretty cool. We're approaching the date."

Greenberg: Groce has Illini peaking

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
11:35
AM CT
EVANSTON, Ill. -- When Illinois hired John Groce as head coach, there was skepticism.

When the Illini won 12 in a row to start the season, beating Butler to win the Maui Invitational and taking a road game at Gonzaga, there was disbelief.

Read the entire column.

Groce happy for Illini seniors after upset

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
4:24
PM CT
Illinois coach John Groce said Friday he was happiest for his seniors after all they've been through following the Illini's upset of No. 1 Indiana on Thursday.

"I'm happy for the seniors not only what they battled here in the last week or month, but they've been through a lot of things during their careers," Groce said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "The way those guys stepped up yesterday, the way they came together. I mentioned to my assistant with about three minutes to go, ‘My gosh, we played our tails off.'"

Illinois seniors Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have endured plenty of ups and downs throughout their careers. In the past two seasons, they've gone 23-3 in non-conference and been ranked as high as No. 10 in the country only to struggle in the Big Ten with a 9-19 mark. With Thursday's win, they improved to 3-7 in the Big Ten this season.

(Read full post)

Scoop: Illinois' fade looks familiar

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
4:52
PM CT
We've seen it before. Just last year. When the men's basketball team representing the University of Illinois opened up the season on a blaze only to self-implode once they hit the back nine, 10-0 before losing 15 of their last 21. This season: Deja vu.

Read the entire column.

Shots not falling for Illinois in Big Ten play

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
6:40
PM CT
Illinois coach John Groce said Wednesday he remains confident the Illini can return to their winning ways as long as they can start hitting shots again.

It's an area Illinois excelled in during its 13-1 non-conference slate, which included wins over Butler and Gonzaga. The Illini shot .445 from the field and .369 from 3-point range during their non-conference schedule. They also averaged 9.4 3-pointers a game.

Since the Big Ten arrived, the Illini have become a lot less accurate, and it's cost them. Illinois has shot .393 from the field and .245 from 3-point range in seven Big Ten games, which has included two wins and five losses. They've also averaged 5.6 3-pointers a game.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES