Groce hopes for hot postseason hand at Illinois

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 13, 2013
John Groce's teams have a way turning it on for the postseason. In Groce's four seasons at Ohio, the Bobcats went to the NCAA tournament twice, racking up wins over Georgetown in 2010 and Michigan in 2012 before losing a close one to North Carolina in the Sweet 16. He's about to find out if his Illinois Illini have that kind of postseason fire in them. Illinois (21-11, 8-10 Big Ten) opens the Big Ten tournament Thursday as the No. 8 seed against No. 9 Minnesota. With wins over Indiana, Gonzaga and Ohio State among its 21 victories, Illinois is a good bet to get to the NCAA tournament, but a win or two in Chicago couldn't hurt and might help build momentum for a team that lost three of its last four regular-season games. Those Ohio teams that made noise in March started by winning the MAC tournament in both 2010 and 2012. Groce, in his first year at Illinois, didn't have a very clear answer for questions about what kind of mindset it took for those Bobcat teams to peak at the right time to make nice post-season runs. ''Physically loose and mentally tight, or focused,'' is how he tried to explain it Tuesday. But he downplayed the possibility that a great run of momentum was even necessary for a team to make that kind of run. ''If they think a win a month ago or a loss four or five days ago is going to have anything to do with Thursday's game at 11 a.m., then we're not very mentally tough,'' Groce told reporters. ''If you lack toughness in March, then that's a problem.'' Groce has emphasized the need to be mentally tough since he arrived in Champaign a year ago, and his Illinois team's toughness has been a source of concern since long before he arrived. The ups and downs the team went through before he arrived - particularly players like Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey, seniors this year - have been well chronicled. Illinois has been to one NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons, and one National Invitational Tournament. They've also endured the collapse last season that sent Bruce Weber packing for Kansas State and brought Groce to town. Just this season they've rattled off those upsets over some of the country's best teams and won the early season EA Sports Maui Invitational. And lost at home to Northwestern while barely surviving Nebraska. The most immediate problem for Illinois, the one that was most obvious in losses to Iowa and Ohio State in the final two regular-season games, was shooting. The Illini weren't very good at it - hitting just 31.6 percent of the shots. ''Part of it is we got some good shots we didn't make,'' Groce said. ''Part of it is Ohio State is top 10 in the country defensively. ... And then Iowa has kind of made their calling with their defense.'' While Illinois can be a challenge to figure out, Minnesota is downright confusing. The Gophers (20-11, 8-10) beat Illinois by 17 in Champaign back in early January, when they were No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25. Since then, they've fallen well out of the Top 25, and now they've lost six of their last nine, including back-to-back games against Nebraska and Purdue to finish the regular season. Groce said Tuesday that there's at least a chance that Joseph Bertrand will be back for Illinois by Thursday. The redshirt junior guard missed last Sunday's loss at Ohio State with a shoulder injury. If he can't go against the Gophers, Groce said, Bertrand should return Friday if the Illini advance to play Indiana. Bertrand is usually Illinois' best bet to ignite the team off the bench. He averages 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 23 minutes a game. If Illinois finds a way past Minnesota on Thursday, the Illini would have the benefit of recent experience on their side. They played three games in three days at the Maui Invitational, and a win Thursday would mean facing the Hoosiers less than 24 hours later. In those situations, Groce said, coaches tend to give players less pregame instruction and let them play a little more loosely. ''I think you've got to be careful saying you want them to play totally instinctively and not think at all,'' he said. ''I don't think you want them overthinking, either. ... You probably water it down. You don't have a lot of time.'' --- Follow David Mercer: www.twitter.com/davidmercerap
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Former NFL LB Armstrong, wife reportedly killed by 16-year-old son

Tyler Eifert says he will never play in the Pro Bowl again

Australian athletes evacuate the Olympic village after fire

Russian weightlifting team banned from Rio

Wade says Riley did not push him out of Miami

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Nationals among multiple teams inquiring on Mark Melancon

McClain does not show up for Cowboys’ training camp

Andre Johnson agrees to two-year deal with Titans

Redskins GM injures hand punching wall in frustration

Report: Aldon Smith checks into rehab

McCarthy discusses 'urgency’ to win another title with Rodgers

Storyline from 'Ballers' plays out in Cowboys preseason camp

Texas A&M creates a very sexist version of their fight song for women

Brown, Marshall are apparently serious about their car bet

Lacy, Starks could split carries to start season

Cyborg Santos post-surgery skull photos are eerie

Dr. Phil calls out the Patriots for their cheating ways

Hockey team unveils Clinton, Trump bobbleheads

Bennett compares chemistry with Pats QBs to his love life

Crowell still making amends for controversial Instagram post

Report: LeBron urged Justin Bieber not to perform at RNC

Luck refutes Matt Hasselbeck’s assertion he never showers

Newspaper editor explains use of Jordan meme for MJ article

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Dr. Phil calls out the Patriots for their cheating ways

Everything that's already gone wrong at the Rio Olympics

Amar'e Stoudemire's presence (and absence) changed the NBA

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Why Gary Bettman's CTE denial is cause for concern for NHL

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker