Nov. 28 college basketball chat

Nov. 28 college basketball chat

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 12:30pm

When will John Groce's team lose for the first time? Are they really any good? Is Michael Finke about to commit? Ask anything of beat writer Marcus Jackson, who had the Illini at No. 20 on his AP Top 25 ballot. He's chatting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday but submit questions any time.


Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Good afternoon, folks. Thanks for stopping by for another Illinois basktball chat. I'll be here for about an hour fielding your questions on the Exciting Illini. Is it all right to call them that after seven games? Big one tonight against a physical Georiga Tech team. I'm expecting a pretty good crowd for that one.

Let's get it started.

IlliniTrav206 wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Marcus - Any word from the ticket office on how the successful Maui trip has impacted ticket sales?  What about the Black Friday deal... how did that do?

Illini fans need to keep the positive energy going and fill Assembly Hall!  Time to get The Hall back to the intimidating environment it once was!

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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From what I was told, the Black Friday deal sold about 1,300 tickets and the Cyber Monday promotion sold about another 1,100 or so. The Illinois folks were pleased with those numbers. With this team being 7-0 and playing the style it’s playing, I expect you’ll see more bodies in the building. The best announced crowd was 14,683 for the Colgate game. Not sure if you’ll get there tonight, but that would be an outstanding number. Season-ticket sales entering the season were about the same as they’ve been in recent years. Where they were down was with the students. They’re back from break now, we’ll have to see if they believe yet.

Kevin L. wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm


This team has surprised me thus far.  I knew there was talent on the roster, but at no point throughout their careers have these guys shown the kind of effort we are seeing this year.  The only difference between this year and last are Coach Groce and an offseason.  I think Coach Groce, his staff, and of course the players have earned some respect among not just the fanbase, but the nation.  They haven't played a great team yet, but how many great teams are there in college basketball anymore?  What they have done is beat teams they should, a few they shouldn't have, and win games a number of different ways.  I think it's fair to say this team has won probably 3 games this year they would have lost last.  my outlook on this season has changed as a result of the first 6 games this season.  it's now my belief they CAN win every game and a loss won't change that.  Now, they won't, but they are certainly capable of beating every team on the schedule.  Your thoughts on the teams success changing your mind on their prospects for the rest of the season?  Once again, thanks for taking the time to field the questions of what i'm sure is an energized Illinois Basketball fanbase!

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Kevin L.,

The team itself is certainly energized and the fanbase is beyond excited, from what I can tell. There’s just a different vibe about these guys. I think this coaching staff with their personalities and their outlook on things is what’s really recharged the team.

Illinois was picked to finish ninth in a poll of media who cover the team. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d say they’re good enough to finish anywhere from fifth to seventh. That’ll probably get you in the tournament in a Big Ten that folks can’t stop gushing about. This team has received a lot of praise for how it’s started, and it’s well-deserved based on how things unraveled at the end of last season.


Anonymous Jim wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I get that none of the opponents so far have been top quality and two games were stolen with last second shots, for what it's worth I believe the low energy level in both of them was understandable, the play of the Illini however has been outstanding and I believe this team will be in the running for a conference championship.  Do I need to take off my orange & blue glasses?


Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Anonymous Jim,

That must be a pretty strong prescription you’re working with on the orange and blue glasses. While the Illini have been exciting and have shown signs of growth, I don’t think they’re at a place right now to be in contention with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State at the top of the league. Those teams are on much different levels right now. They have very few weaknesses.

Remember, the Illini started 10-0 last year, though this start has a much different feel and vibe to it than last year’s. They’ve got work to do, however. Need more of an inside presence on the offensive end and the rebounding has to get much better. If Gardner-Webb is pushing you around on the boards, what do you think those teams I mentioned above, plus Michigan State and Minnesota and Trevor Mbakwe are going to do?

The fact that Richardson, Bertrand and Paul are the leading rebounders isn't troubling, however. Groce says the big guys are actually doing a great job of blocking out and it opens things up for the guards to come in and clean up. You'd like to see the big guys get better overall, however. That'll be important going forward.


Anonymous User wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm


What did the G-W coach mean that this game wouldn't have been scheduled if Groce would have been the coach at the time of the agreement? Would he not want to face a Groce coached team? Was it a favor to Weber? That statement seemed a little odd to me, didn't know if you could shed some light on it for me.


Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said Sunday that he wouldn’t have scheduled the game with Illinois if John Groce was the coach here before the deal was made. Hiltmann and Groce are very, very close. They played together at Taylor and Holtmann worked on Groce’s staff at Ohio. Much like Weber coaching against Keady and Painter, Holtmann and Groce hated playing one another. For one, whenever G-W called a play, the Illini coaches were telling their players what they were running and G-W’s coaches were doing the same thing.

“I’ve learned a ton from John, Coach Groce is a terrific teacher.I’ve learned so much from him and have a great deal of respect,” Holtmann said after the game. “It is odd when you’re calling out the same calls from the bench offensively and defensively.”

When Gardner-Webb banked in that three to take the lead late, Illinois botched the defensive assignment, failing to switch the ball screen. Interestingly enough, G-W did the same exact thing on Tyler Griffey’s game-winner.

Holtmann also said he’s an Illinois basketball fan for 354 days out of the year, just not last Sunday.

illinigator wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Do you think fatique and a let down from Hawaii caused such a bad game against GW? 

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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The players and coaches will say it didn't have anything to do with to poor play, but it did. You don't play four game in six days four time zones away in Hawaii and come back at full strength. There was a bit of a hangover there, but G-W might have had as rough a stretch with its schedule leaidng up to two games in Cancun.

Part of that is the Illini haven't really been able to get after it in practiec because of the rough stretch of games, so some of the major issues can't fully be addressed yet.

"Right now, it's hard to have a legitimate, full-contact, two-hour, getting-after-it practice because you're trying to keep guys mentally and physically fresh," Groce said. 

After the game tonight, they'll have six days off between games, so alot of those issues will be addressed then.

Pogo in Springfield wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Marcus, as all Illini hoops fans, it is a breath of fresh air to see this team attempting to try to do the things it takes to win games.  Been several years since we have seen this team play to win and not to not lose.  

My question concerns recruiting.   First, can you tell me if the Illini are pursuing any 4-5 star bigs outside the state for the 14 class?  If so, can you name some names?  Losing Sam and Tyler leaves us with one player over 6' 7" with any experience, and he is far from being a Big Ten force at this time.   Morgan will be a frosh with size, but do you see him contributing?  Do you forsee the light going on for Shaw?   Thanks.

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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Most of the targets for big men in 2014 are in-state guys. Michael Finke from Centennial, who’s up to about 6-9 is off to a fantastic start to his junior season with the Chargers. We’ll hear from Finke later this week in The News-Gazette and on HQ. Benet’s Sean O’Mara is also a possibility. Of course there’s Okafor, Alexander  and White out there, too. Outside of Illinois, the Illini have shown interest in 6-10 Jabari Craig from Georgia who has a bunch of offers from SEC, ACC schools.

As for Morgan, he might take a while to develop, not sure he’ll be ready to contribute on a large scale as a freshman. Some guys have picked up the system and adapted to playing the way the staff wants quicker than others. Mike Shaw isn’t quite there yet, but he’ll have every opportunity to do so. I wouldn’t give up on him yet. Had another question about Shaw, wondering if he’s got an attitude problem. That’s not the case at all; he’s been great. Coaches speak highly about his character often.

Anonymous User wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Is this new Tyler Griffey here to stay? He does this every year. Then he goes off into hibernation. My question is this, is he going to play like this for 32 games??

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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You've never seen Tyler Griffey have a stretch of games like this in his career. This isn't a situation where you're going to see him disappear for weeks at a time. He's always been a great shooter, we all know that. But he's added variety to his offensive game. He was talking about it after Sunday's game and kind of laughed and said "I think I even shot a floater tonight" he didn't know where that came from.

It's come from the player development that this staff has focused on since they arrived earlier this year. Griffey always credits big-man coach Dustin Ford with expanding his offensive game and his new-found ability to take guys off the dribble and pull up to shoot.

He's still got a little bit of a ways to go on the defensive end.

"He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. I enjoy coaching Tyler. He’s very similar to Brandon in he wants to get better. Asks for film, wants to watch film. He’s really, really improved," Groce said. "His dad keeps hitting me with ‘Tell him to get a rebound.’ Obviously he’s played great on offense. The other night we were really good against the zone when he was in the game; he was really good.

"We’ll continue to stay on him about the rebounding and his contribution there. Overall, I think he’s playing really well."

BeatGT! wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I know that Michael Finke is good, but since he just came from under the radar not too long ago, is there a chance he'll become a 5 star recruit? What's his realistic potential and what player would you compare him to?

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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He's good, but 5-star guys are one-and-done-type players. I don't think Finke is that, but he's going to be a good one and his stock continues to rise with the good start he's had at Centennial.

Som have tried to compare him to Robbie Hummel, but he's not as fluid and athletic as Hummel is/was. I've heard Frank Kaminsky as a guy he's comparable to right now, the big guy at Wisconsin who played with Northwestern point guard David Sobolewski at Benet. Both are big bodies and can shoot it with touch from the outside.

Finke is still growing and he needs to continue to develop his body to bang around once he gets to college.

PeterE wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm


What makes this Illini team different than the one that started out 10-0 last season but finsihed 15-17? Why won't that happen to this Groce coached team of mostly the same players?

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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That's a very good point. Part of it is the continued focus on developing individual skills every day. I don't know this, but I think you'll continue to see these guys get better individually and then collectively as a team as the season progresses.

G-W coach Chris Holtmann said the other day that it's hard to have a bad day around John Groce. 

"He’s just a really, really positive guy and I think his team feeds off that," Holtmann said. "It’s easy to beat up a team over the course of a season because you go through difficult losses; John and his staff won’t do that. They will stay positive."

I think these guys had a lot of bad days last year and that was because there was so much pressure on everyone involved int he program from the top all the way down.

kowalcz wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

It seems like in years past we have always tended to become passive once we finally cracked the top 25 (i.e. after beating Ohio State last year). I know this group has worked extremely hard this year on the court, but do you see them staying hungry and trying to climb the ranks of college basketball? Or should we expect another slide towards mediocrity?

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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Top 25 or not, I don't think the head coach will allow this group to settle for anything. Someone wrote to me on Twitter the other day and said something along the line of "John Groce would say this teram has a lot to get better at if they had just won a national championship." I think that's true.

The onder guys on this team have been through a lot, they've experienced those bad slides after gaining recognition and they're tired of it. In the last when they'd break into the rankings, they were feeling real good about themselves. Yesterday, when the topic of the Top 25 came up, the players almost seemed annoyed by it.

"It's just a number," Groce said. 

The seniors are the guys leading the charge in the locker room making sure the rest of the team doesn't think the work is done now.

Something Groce says often is freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to produce stats and seniors want to win.

The seniors are leading the charge with this team and it was evident in how they carried the team in Sunday's win.

Marcus Jackson wrote on November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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Thanks again for checking in. Got a couple of radio things to do before tonight's game. I'll have a live report from the game up tonight be sure to check that out. if you've got anything pressing I didn't get to.