Sunday, April 21, 2013

Illinois basketball: What kind of expectations should be set for John Groce's second season?


By on 8:43 PM

About one week ago, the Illinois Fighting Illini gave Head Coach John Groce a one-year contract extension and a nice pay raise, $200,000 to be exact.  Groce was given this pay bump and extension because he led the Illini to a 23-13 record and an 8-10 record in the Big Ten. And lets not forget, a NCAA tournament appearance and a victory in his first year.
            
With this generous contract extension, what should Illini fans think about and expect from Groce in his second season? He is losing his top player in Brandon Paul and needs to be able to make sure the recruits he is bringing in can play with the big boys of the Big 10.
            
Everybody loved Illinois when the shots were falling but what happened when they weren’t; the team would get out played. Will Groce have to change his game plan from last season?
            
Returning will be Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, and Nnanna Egwu to lead the Illini. Bertrand will be the only returning senior in Illinois’ starting lineup next season.
           
Groce signed two of ESPN’s Top 100 recruits in Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, so we can see that he can recruit. But, losing his top two scorers from a year ago, can Groce mesh the recruits and the transfers into a virtually a new team?
             
These are all questions that are in the minds of Illini fans everywhere. Rebounding will need to improve if Illinois wants to have a winning record in the Big 10 next season. The Illini finished this season ranked 218th in the nation in rebounding at 33.5 rebounds per game.
            
Bringing in ISU transfer Jon Ekey and four-star recruit Austin Colbert will help Egwu on the glass next season. Rebounding is about effort and Illinois fans will not want to see their team on the wrong side of the rebounding battle.
            
Understanding that, of course, the shooting percentage needs to improve but that comes with confidence, not just pure effort.
            
Expectations for next season should be high. Illinois was expected to finish 10th in the conference in 2013 and ended the season seventh. That’s a big jump for a coach in his first year. Upsets over Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State give fans that confidence to win in any game.

            
If Illinois is on, they may have a chance against anyone in the nation. Finishing with a winning record, or at least .500, in the conference is an expectation that everyone should hope for going into next season.
            
Groce inherited a pretty good team from Kansas State boss Bruce Weber, but now lets see how Groce can mesh new faces into his program. Can Groce lead an Illini team that needs a new leader and a new image?
            
Illinois can make a major impact in the Big 10 next season and hopefully, Groce can mold his team into another upset specialist in one of the deepest conferences in America.

Travis Zuellig covers the Saint Louis Billikens and Illinois Fighting Illini basketball teams for StlSportsMinute.com. You can follow Zuellig on Twitter (@OnlyOneZuellig) and check out all of his content here

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