Changes likely in store for Illini
CHAMPAIGN — John Groce intimated that changes were coming for Illinois after Saturday’s 16-point loss to then-No. 25 Indiana.
The Illini coach doubled down on that Tuesday — particularly in the case of freshman point guard Te’Jon Lucas and redshirt freshman forward Kipper Nichols — when it came to the lineups and rotation he might use today against Michigan.
Change is indeed coming.
“They’re playing,” Groce said about his freshmen, who have a combined six DNPs this season.
“They’re going to play.”
That was news to Nichols, who played a career-high 11 minutes against the Hoosiers.
“Did he say that?” Nichols asked, with a hint of surprise turning into a big smile. “We’ll see. I’m ready when my name is called. Whatever Groce tells me to do, I go out there and do. ... I think I provide a lot of versatility at both ends of the floor. I think I really do.”
Unless things change between now and the 8 p.m. tip, Groce will call Nichols’ name today against Michigan.
Lucas’, too, amid more possible changes in the Illini rotation.
Groce has used a deep rotation all season.
Ten players seeing the court in a game has been the norm rather than the exception.
Adjustments to the rotation won’t be change for change’s sake.
Groce wants more from his team — especially at the defensive end.
“We’ve wrinkled a couple things, obviously, pertaining to Michigan,” Groce said. “Every opponent is different, so we always have adaptations we make when it comes to opponent and scouting.
“In terms of lineups, yeah, there’s going to be some changes. I said that the other day after the game.
“It’s nothing personal. We’ve got to defend better. I like where we’re going offensively. We’ve got to push more buttons defensively."
Nichols is one button to push.
Groce likes his ability to guard multiple positions now that the 6-foot-6 Ohio native is playing some 3 along with the 4.
Considering Nichols’ 11 minutes against Indiana were more than double what he had played previously combined, the transfer forward still is finding his comfort zone.
“I knew it was going to be tough coming into it, just knowing I wasn’t fortunate enough to get granted the waiver to play right away,” Nichols said. “It’s always tough when roles are kind of solidified and people are used to what they do, but these guys helped me with that and just staying positive.”
Illinois senior Malcolm Hill said the Illini have shown throughout the season they have the requisite talent to compete. Getting more from Lucas and Nichols, Hill said, can only make the team better.
Competing consistently is what Illinois has struggled with in a season in which every game — every opportunity to pad the win total — is important.
“I think every game is a ‘must win,’ honestly,” Hill said. “I think it’s a must win for every team because every team is fighting to get on top. We take every game seriously. I think we have a need to win every upcoming game we play. There’s no game that we can take off.
“We know that we have a good team. We’ve got to figure out ways to put it together, and when we put it together, keep it going consistently.”