College hoops beat writer Marcus Jackson will take your questions from Austin, Texas, site of the Illini's NCAA tournament opener against Colorado. Anything goes.
Good morning from the media room here at the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas where NCAA tournament activities begin here with teams from the East regional (Miami, Pacific, Illinois, Colorado) and the South Regional (Florida, UCLA, Northwestern State and Minnesota) will meet the media and practice in front of the public.
Illinois will practice today from 2:15-2:55 for those of you in Austin.
I'll be here for about an hour or so fielding your questions.
Marcus: For the first half of the season the Illini were one of the best shooting teams in the country but since then the shot making and scoring have suffered mightily. Can you come up with any rational cause for this dramatic change?
That's been the money question throughout the season. It's one of those things that's kind of hard to explain. It might be time to come to the realization that they're probably not as good of shooters as they showed early in the season. They were shooting at a ridiculous clip early on. And a couple of guys (D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey) suffered through prolonged shooting slumps. If you play the game long enough, that's going to happen.
I've asked the coaches about that a few times, and they say sometimes, that's jsut the way it goes, guys just miss shots.
Credit the defenses in the Big Ten, too. The teams all know one another and personnel so well that they take things away and make it difficult to get clean looks.
So it's come down to Klee vs MJ round 1 at the dance. How about a 3 point contest the night before the game to entertain us readers? Needs to be witnessed by one coach and Ed Bond.
What is it like for sportswriters at these event venues? Great access to all areas of the building and good food?
Do recruits ever attend these games? Cheers
Unfortunately, Klee didn't make the trip. As we speak, he's probably in Las Vegas with a couple of friends from Champaign losing all his money and enjoying the games at a casino drinking colas.
In a three-point shooting competition, I'd win, there's no doubt in my mind. Klee got me once (I wasn't sober). He was a heck of a point guard at Denver Christian. He's got the news clippings to prove it and somehow, they're always handy. I think they're a part of the daily stuff he carries in his bag.
The setups for these events are great. Large workspaces, access to the locker rooms in addition to the daily news conferences. There will be two buffet meals served here today. As I type this, all the tables in the Longhorn Room here have cleared. The buffet just opened for service here.
The only way a recruit would attend an NCAA tournament game was if he came on his own and bought his own ticket.
Hi MJ. Great work this season. Let's hope they can keep the season going for a while longer. It was great to see Bertrand get going again the last couple games. Do you think he is feeling more confident? Is the overall mood of the team confident going in? Thanks and have fun in Austin.
Joe went through a prolonged stretch there where he wasn't playing with any confidence. There wasnt anything physically wrong with him, he was just not playing with any kind of belief out there. Privately, it was just something he said he needed to work through.
That was before the shoulder injury. Since then, he's been a different player and perhaps sitting out the Ohio State game allowed him to sit back observe things and get some of that confidence back.
The team has been very confident since the end of the Ohio State game, which was somewhat alarming because they didn't play particularly well in the losses at Iowa and OSU. That's a product of John Groce and his staff and I think that's why they've done so well in March. Being around the team, you would have thought they just ended the season on a five-game win streak. They were confident going into the Big Ten tournament and they're confident coming down here.
MJ....thanks for taking my question. What do you expect from the Illini in Austin? Their performance curve is as wide as the Pacific and I have no idea what to expect. They seem to always play hard and defend with energy, but blunders and poor shooting seem to pop up as if they are a part of their DNA....and then a miraculous rally, or the fragments of one, bring on hope to the very end. Simply, can they play with enough competence in all phases to compete with Colorado for 40 minutes? I fully understand no one can predict with any certainty, but was wondering how you view this next game to unfold.
Someone asked me last week what it was like to predict games for this team: it's a nightmare because you never know what you're going to get.
My take on the team now is this: Yes, they play loose a lot of the time, but they tense up in certain moments. They were nervous about getting into the tournament, even though they've been a lock for a few weeks now. With all the pressure of making the tournament off, there's a good chance we'll see the team we saw early in the season. I could be wrong, but that's the feeling I get.
Marcus, Coach Groce has done a terrific job with this years team. Do you think in time he will be able to recruit 5 star talent to the university of Illinois and compete for big ten championships and sweet 16 runs in the NCAA tournament?
It's really remarkable that we're here where we are considering what was happening with the program one year ago. The players deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back and buying in and it's a huge credit to the staff for getting these guys to believe they could get here.
John Groce has a great reputation as a recruiter and I think it's just a matter of time before he can upgrade the talent in the program to compete at a high level consistently. I think the proposed Assembly Hall renovation is a plus. It's more than just winning and being around great people. Kids like pretty buildings and such.
You're within a couple miles of 6th Street and I'm not. I'm very jealous. I don't have a question, that just needed to be said.
I went to 6th Street last night and it felt like a right of passage for me. And the weather was fantastic.
Extremely happy the Illini got put down here. Got my session 1 tickets and am ready to go. On to the questions, 1) What are the chances 2 south suburban kids would be in Austin, TX for an Illini game at the same time (I'm from Calumet City) and 2) Do you think the Illini have a legitimate shot to make it out of Austin. Colorado and Miami (presumably) both have strengths that fear me and weaknesses that comfort me. What's your take?
Illini in Longhorn,
Hope to see you down here. Are you a T.F. North guy? Former News-Gazette sports writer Jeff Mezydlo is a former Meteor.
It's interesting Jay BIlas has the Illini going to the Elite Eight and he's as good an analyst as there is at ESPN, along with Dan Dakich. Dakich has Illinois losing to Colorado.
Do they have what it takes? Sure they do, but they're going to have to hit a lot of shots. I'm talking like 10-plus three-pointers.
The physicality of both teams should be a concern, the Illini haven't shown a penchant for responding well to that style of play consistently. With Miami, they've got a little point guard who can get in the paint and make life tough. Illinois has seen that this season (Phil Pressey, Trey Burke) and those games didn't end well.
MJ, the street ball offense Illinois used at crucial times of the Indiana game, either BP or TA dribbling until taking it in one on one, was horrific. Has Groce made mention of making adjustments so this doesn't happen again?
It wasn't pretty. It seems to me that the Illini have struggled genertating good two-point looks lately, but they did get layups against Indiana and just missed them, it was close to a half dozen.
Groce talked about it after the Indiana game and said simply that Indiana played excellent defense, particularly Victor Oladipo. They'll make a few wrinkles heading into tomorrow's game to get some things cleaned up and to get the offense flowing more freely. He won't reveal what those are, of course.
mike shaw was considered a very good recruit coming out of high school. what aspect(s) of his game keeps him nailed to the bench? is he frustrated by the lack of playing time, or is he willing to complete his final 2 years at illinois and get his degree? if john groce gives him that choice.
Mike has kind of struggled across the board. It's just a matter of consistency. One day, he'll be the best rebounder in practice and the next day, not so much. Same thing on the defensive end, there's just not bene enough consistency to warrant significant playing time.
Mike has kept a good attitude throughout it all. He's frustrated, sure, who wouldn't be, but just like the other guys he hasn't allowed it to become an issue. It remains to be seen if he'll stay her ethe next two years, I'd imagine if he feels his role won't increase, he'll look at options to play elsewhere.
Thanks again for stopping by. I'm out to start working on the coverage for tomorrow. Pacific coach Bob Thompson is at the podium. He made a joke about his players and 6th Street. I'm going to go listen to this.
I'll talk to you good folks tomorrow. Enjoy the games.