Dec. 12 college basketball chat

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 12:30pm

Beat writer Marcus Jackson had Illinois 11th on his AP ballot - and they checked in at No. 10. What gives? And what about John Groce's contract. As in ... when should Mike Thomas start doling out raises. Ask MJ anything on your mind during his weekly chat, which gets going at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Submit questions any time.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:31 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Good afternoon and welcome to what I believe to be the very first Top-10 chat in IlliniHQ history. Though, if the Illini play Sunday like they did last night, it might be the last one for a while. Got a lot to get to today, so we'll get started here shortly.

Working to get some updates on D.J. Richardson's (upper shoulder) and Tracy Abrams' (shin) conditions today. Both had bruises and both returned to the game, so I'd expect they'll be fine for Eastern Kentucky on Sunday.

Anonymous User — 12:33 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

I know its early, but John Groce is one of the hottest thing going right now in coaching.  If he finishes up the season towards the top of the Big Ten, wins multiple games in both the B10 Tourney and NCAA, do you think Thomas should look to tear up his contract and give him more money and years?  I don't think any Illini fan wants to have to worry about him leaving for greener pastures. His name will come up when big jobs come available (maybe not this year) and it may be best to show loyalty and commitment well in advance of being courted by other schools.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:36 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


I like where your head’s at. You’ve got a really good coach here and you want to make sure you do anything possible to keep him here for a very long time. Makes sense. I think when the time is right, you’ve got an athletic director who understands that and he’ll do what’s right to make sure John Groce is at Illinois for the long haul.

Here’s my thought and it’s just my opinion, but I’m not sure Groce would be looking to leave if he had great success here. He came up under Thad Matta, who has Ohio State as a perennial Top-10 program and Matta is in his ninth season at OSU. Another coach from that family, Brad Stevens, could have had any job in the country the last few years, but he’s stuck with Butler. I see Groce as a Big Ten guy, who’s comfortable in the Midwest. I could be wrong. I’m wrong a lot. I thought Bret Bielema would be at Wisconsin forever.

Kevin L. — 12:37 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


What a performance by the illini saturday night.  I was particularly impressed with the maturity of the guards.  the 3's were falling, but they refused to just settle for them.  they got to the basket at will.  Then the Brandon Paul show started.  I'm still not sure this is a top 10 team, but if they continue playing like they did saturday night they sure are.  My question is this, if the illini get into foul trouble late in games like they did saturday night with egwu and griffey, what is the plan?  it seemed to me paul just took over at that point and said, im gonna be fouled on every possession.  Is shaw ready to step in for griffey at crucial points during the game?  there isn't really anyone with the length of egwu, but if paul is getting to the stripe like he did saturday, it's not as critical.  Thanks for the chats!  Enjoying the surprise season these illini are providing. This is the best senior class the illini have had in a while.  they have taken ownership of this team.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:40 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Kevin L.,

The plan, in the event of foul trouble, would be to go down the bench to eat up minutes. Mike Shaw got in real briefly at Gonzaga. He committed a foul. They’re not afraid to play him, it’s just that Egwu, Griffey and McLaurin have been pretty good for them to this point, so they haven’t needed him much. Mike has shown some flashes in practice, so they’d be confident in using him if the other guys ahead of him encounter foul trouble.

EJ in Denver — 12:42 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Marcus -

Thanks for the chats.  Love watching these Illini.  My questions is this...How much of this year's success is Groce vs natural maturation of our players?  We hear alot about the change in attitude but how much is due to his focus on skill development?  I guess the question is are we giving Groce to much credit or not enough?  Did all Weber need was a little more time?

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:45 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


I think they kind of go hand in hand, but Groce has ushered their maturation along at a remarkable rate. What I’m trying to say is I think these players would have matured some, but Groce and the coaching staff have brought out the best in them in terms of their physical skills and their approach to the game. This team wouldn’t be 11-0 and ranked in the Top10 if the coaching change wasn’t made. Look at the improvement Tyler Griffey, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have made since last season. I think that’s a direct result of the focus on development and the new voices at the top. Bruce Weber’s style has worked and it worked here. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t reaching these guys anymore.

Illiniwek11 — 12:46 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

I just have to ask....why do you (and Klee previously) make such a big deal about Griffey coming out on the floor to shoot so early during home games?  The guy is 3-12 FG & 0-6 3pt in his last 2 home games. What the hell is he doing out there?  How can a senior shoot that terribly on his home court when all we hear about is how early he gets out there to shoot around?

Which leads me to my 2nd question....does the team ever practice in Assembly Hall in the day(s) leading up to a home game?  Why does the visiting team always seem to come in and shoot the lights out while we struggle?  

This early season success is great and I'll ride this thing as long as it goes but our lack of interior rebounding and an off-night shooting is going to make for some long trips back from Big Ten away games.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:54 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Is this the real Chief? I probably do it because it bothers you so much. Honestly, I write that before games because it’s what I see. If Nnanna Egwu was the guy out there shooting before every game, I’d tell you. Tyler is usually out there well before the doors open and no one sees that stuff, so I tell you about it. If he was doing handstands, I’d tell you that, too. You ask what the (heck) he’s doing out there. He’s got a shooting routine and he makes a whole mot more of them than he misses. He’s in a funk right now. Happens to everyone.

Usually the day before a home game, the team practices at the Assembly Hall. They did not this week because there was a concert in the building on Monday night. Trey Songz was the headliner. Could have contributed. Outside of the home games this season, most of the games this season have been played in small arenas. Not sure if there’s any correlation there.

On a kind of related note. Mr. Songz and his people played some pickup ball at Ubben before the concert Monday on the women's side. The women's team met him. They were giddy about it.

Salt Life — 12:54 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


When this team is on fire they are delightful and exciting to watch. When they play again like last night, they are very frustrating to watch. Seems like the old bugaboo of playing down to the competition, not getting up for games against weaker opponents and coasting along without a strong killer instinct is still evident with this team even after their old coach is gone. Explain to me why this team still has those nagging faults even with the new coach guiding them. Maybe it wasn't the coach's fault after all and these motivational issues rest mostly in the same players Weber recruited and coached? What will it take to get them not to take any more nights off and play consistently like the top teams do? No wonder there are still so many doubters unsure how to rate and rank them.


Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 12:59 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Salt Life,

Old habits die hard, no matter who’s in charge. These are mostly the same guys who struggled down the stretch last season, so there might be isolated flashes of that team, but for the most part, I don't anticipate you'll see many prolonged power outages. When you hear Groce talking about changing the culture, that’s what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, starts like last night might happen once in a while. They were much more frequent in the past. But, Groce took the blame for it last night. “I’ve got to figure it out, I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job of getting them ready to play,” he said afterward.

I thought last night was more of a situation where they just weren’t making shots. You can get away with a sluggish start if you’re knocking down your open looks. I think they’ve shown a killer instinct they haven’t in the past by closing out these bad games when it comes down the stretch.

Jackie Musso — 12:59 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Hi Marcus, I enjoyed the series with Gonzaga the past 4 years.  Is there any chance it will resume, or that Illinois will arrange something similar with another quality program?  Based on earlier reporting from Klee, I am under the impression that Groce definitely prefers a heavy home slate for the non-conference schedule.  If so, that would seem to indicate that the Illini might shy away from comitting to home-and-home series against other teams (?).

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:03 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


The Gonzaga series is done for now. The future schedule is still very much a work in progress with a lot of feelers out there. That’s something I expect to come together in the next month or so with some opponents being confirmed. Once those start to get finalized, I’ll pass along what I know.

PeterE — 01:04 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Hi Marcus:

Love that Illinois is 11-0, don't get me wrong but this lackadaisical effort won't pass muster in Big Ten play. Illinois might upset Indiana and/or Michigan, then lose to Iowa or Nebraska. I don't trust that they will come out with 100% effort every game despite who they are playing. That is the same thing that bugged me the previous 5 or so years and this team still scares me.


Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:06 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


I don’t know that they’re going to bring 100 percent every night, but it sounds like they recognize that as an issue and are going to take steps to fix it. “We just come out flat. I really can’t say too much about it, we’ve got to do a better job,” D.J. Richardson said. “The seniors and upperclassmen have to do a better job as well. We can’t just put all the pressure on Coach, we’ve got to do a better job of getting ready.”

Mr. Cub — 01:07 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Does or has Groce ever talk to Bruce Weber? Such as getting insights on whether he needs to push Griffey or let him take it easy in practice so he doesn't disappear again this year. Obviously Groce would do the opposite of what Weber tried, because Griffey has been a magician each year of his basketball career.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:12 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Mr. Cub,

No, I don’t believe they have traded intel on the roster. Groce very much wants to put his own stamp on these guys. He didn’t watch any old film on these guys, formed his own opinions based on what he saw.

Griffey hasn’t scored much the last couple of games, but he had six boards last night and has six against Western Carolina. He’s contributing in other ways. I think he’ll be fine. He's also going to grow his hair out, though he says he won't let it get as long as Kelly Olynyk's.

Bill S. — 01:14 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

What is wrong with Nanna Egua.  Why wont he post up and shoot hooks?  All he wants to do is act like a guard.  If Illinois doesnt have a post presence, then all teams have to do is guard the 3 point line.

Jman — 01:14 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Why is Nnanna struggling so much? There were about 3or4 rebounds last night that he should have had, but they turned into offensive boards for Norfolk State. It doesnt seem as if Nnanna can jump. I say put McLaurin in for Nnanna.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:19 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Bill S., Jman,

Nnanna is still learning how to play the game. It’s one of those things you have to deal with when your top big man is so green. But he works and he’s a smart kid. He will figure it out. Until then, you’re going to have some growing pains with him.

“We’ve gotto continue to develop our post play. We’ve got to get him more comfortable, I’ve said all along we’ve got to get Nnanna more game experience,” Groce said last night. “He had a turnaround jump shot down there, a couple he missed. The more comfortable he gets and he’s capable of making those, it’s going to make our offense better.”

Krush Fan — 01:19 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Love these chats and great job with taking over as the lead beat reoporter for Illini hoops, I have really enjoyed your coverage this season! Keep it up!

My question is regarding the orange krush. do you think that they are still an effective student section? what kind of "grade" would you give them overall and what do you think they need in order to get back to the level they were once at?


Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:23 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Krush Fan,

Thanks. I was actually thinking about this a little bit yesterday. I love the Krush, love what they stand for with the charity stuff and all that. When I was at Gonzaga, I was blown away by the student support. They had 1,200 students on the floor 90 minutes before the game and they were loud for the entire game. That’s roughly a quarter of their student body and they camped out for a couple of nights to get those seats. The biggest problem at Illinois is they haven’t won at a high level in so long. The current students didn’t experience that, so they’re not completely to blame. The Krush has been good and I expect you’ll see them get better as the team continues to play at a high level. They just haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

tom chicago — 01:25 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

They've been saying all along that if you live by the 3 you die by it so nice to see the Illini pull out a win when their shot's not dropping. I noticed a helpful development:

1. DJ driving to the hole. He hasn't been doing that much of late, agree? It's great to see that.

2. Zone defense helped at critical times. Nice to see the Illini throw a zone out there when they've had so much trouble with it themselves.

Lastly, your thoughts and a question:

I thought that the team was overrated at 13, now 10. But so much of the game is mental. Does there come a point where they become the 10th best team in the country because they believe they are?



Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:28 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Good observation on D.J. I thought early in the season he was making more of an effort to get to the bucket, then got comfortable standing on the perimeter. I think before the Gonzaga game, 70 of his 90 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. It was good to see him going to the paint last night, especially after suffering the upper shoulder injury. 

If they continue to win games and start winning games they’re supposed to win convincingly, they’ll believe. What I really like about this team has been their focus on what’s next. Nothing before that and nothing beyond that. A lot of people say those things because that’s what you’re supposed to say and these guys did it in the past, but I feel they really are focused on the task at hand from day to day. Tracy Abrams didn’t even know they were playing Gonzaga after the Western Carolina game last week.

Anonymous Jim — 01:28 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Marcus, given how much the Illini depend on the 3 point shot, how concerned is Groce about games towards the end of the season when tired legs will be making their presence?

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:32 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


I don't know that he's concerned about how they'll fare late in the season, but he recognizes they must find other ways to score when the shots aren't falling from the outside. They weren't making shots early at Gonzaga, but got to the bucket. That ability needs to continue to develop, though they are going to win games by making lots of threes.

"They were trying to run us off the (three-point) line, too, then we just started decking it," Groce said last night. "Brandon was getting to the rim, Tracy was getting to the rim, Joseph was getting to the rim. There’s different ways."

Collatine — 01:32 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

The Spartans seemed quicker much of the time last night than the Illini, which may have led us to use an aggressive zone much of the game. Would you agree and if so how much do you think fatigue is a factor in Illinois' energy level last night? The media scrutiny, the travel, the intense Gonzaga game, and exam week all adding up...?

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:34 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Norfolk State came to play last night and they've got some good athletes. Groce said they're the 10th tallest team in the country and they're very well-coached.

Norfolk State had a lot to do with Illinois' early struggles last night. I don't think any of the reasons you listed led to the struggles last night. They didn't play well and they missed a lot of shots early. They got plenty of rest, staying in Spokane on Saturday night, so fatigue shouldn't have been much of a factor.

Bryan — 01:35 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Saw that Parker is going to announce his decision on the 20th.  Where do you think he is going?  Has Groce still been trying to land him?

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:36 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012


Michigan State fans will tell you that 12/20 on a digital calendar of clock looks a lot like "IZZO". Seriously, I read that somewhere today and that's why they think they're getting Parker.

I have no idea where he'll end up, the Parkers have played this one pretty close to the vest. I like that. Whoever gets him is getting a heck of a player for one year.

Illinois has focused on guys who are interested in them and who they can land.

Marcus Jackson (moderator) — 01:38 PM on Wed, 12/12/2012

Thanks for stopping by today, lots of good questions. Could be a big day for the Illini, Centennial big man Michael Finke is on campus. Illinois is hoping to lock up the local kid.

Former Fresno State star and Celtics guard Chris Herren is speaking tonight about overcoming addiction at the Hilton Garden Inn. I'll be there, should be a good presentation.