AUSTIN, Texas — The Illinois roster doesn’t have much NCAA tournament experience.
Seniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were regulars in the Illinois rotation when the Illini beat UNLV and then lost to Kansas in the 2011 tournament in Tulsa, Okla. Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand, Illinois’ other scholarship players who were on the roster in 2011, played a total of four minutes.
Their coach, however, is in familiar territory.
John Groce led 13th-seeded Ohio to the Sweet 16 last season with wins against Michigan and South Florida before falling in overtime to North Carolina.
“The tournament is the tournament, anytime you can experience it, it’s got to help you as a player or coach,” said former Ohio State and NBA star Clark Kellogg, an analyst with CBS. “It’s his first year with this group. He had that other group (at Ohio) for a while longer, so that’s a different deal. He’ll have his guys prepared.”
Kellogg is familiar with Groce and his approach. Kellogg’s son, Nick, was a sophomore on last year’s Ohio team that made the deep run.
“I had a good relationship with him. I think really highly of him, I think he’s a rising star as a college coach, I really do,” Clark Kellogg said. “He’s a hard worker, an eager learner and he wants to help guys develop on and off the court. I think he’s got all the ingredients to be really, really successful.”
Last year wasn’t Groce’s first in the tournament as a head coach. In his second season at Ohio, Groce directed the Bobcats to their second NCAA tournament appearance in 16 years.
The 41-year-old was on the bench for two NCAA tournament appearances as an assistant to Thad Matta at Ohio State, including a trip to the 2007 national title game.
“Experience is a great teacher. I’ve had the chance to be in (the tournament) a lot,” Groce said. “I’ve had the chance to coach a lot of really good players and be around a lot of really good coaches. We’ll rely on that experience in terms of itinerary and routine.”
Kellogg watched closely when Groce was at Ohio. That he’s been able to infuse confidence in this Illinois team, which missed the NCAAs and NIT last year, isn’t a major surprise to Kellogg.
“A lot of it can be attributed to John and his style and approach in terms of how he wants his guys to be and play on the court. He wants them playing freely, much like Thad’s teams,” Kellogg said. “They want you playing hard, playing together, but they don’t want you to think about missing shots. When you have your shot, they want you to look at the basket and you better shoot it. That’s a wonderful way to play, and I think kids enjoy that.”