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November 9, 2012

Illini hoops season tips off Friday




The John Groce era begins at Illinois on Friday night when Colgate comes to town to take on the Fighting Illini.

Groce was 85-53 in 4 seasons at Ohio and now has the task of revitalizing the Illini program behind a group of veterans led by Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson.


Setting the Stage

Illinois (0-0) vs. Colgate (0-0)
Friday, November 9, 2012
Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL
TV: None
Internet Stream: BTN.com Radio: Illini Sports Network


Storylines

* Illinois will channel Taylor University, the alma mater of John Groce, and copy their 'Silent Night'. Basically, no fans cheer until the Illini score their 10th point and then they erupt as if they just defeated Ohio State on a Brandon Paul 3 pointer falling out of bounds. Word is that they practiced this same fashion of cheering back in 2009 for the Penn State game, but forgot because it took so long to get to 10 points. Anyway, it should be fun.

* This is John Groce's first real game at Illinois. He won his first game as a Division I Head coach back in 2008, when Ohio defeated William and Mary by a 74-55 score.

*Colgate hasn't played Illinois since 1961.

*The most vivid memory of Colgate basketball is probably watching Adonal Foyle dominate the Patriot League back in the mid 1990's. Foyle was a 1st round pick in 1997. Since that time, Colgate has struggled. They have been above .500 just twice in the past 10 seasons, and their best record during that span came in 2008, when they were 18-14.

* Illini newcomer and 5th year senior Sam McLaurin will see his first regular season action and should be a very important piece for the Illini in 2012-13. Redshirt sophomore Devin Langford and preferred walk on Mike LaTulip could also see some action. Illinois is 3-0 all time against Colgate.

* The Illini were 17-15 a year ago, faltering after a 15-3 start. Colgate was 8-22.


Keys to the Game

1. Transition defense - Our keys to the game are more about what Illinois needs to do to get better in this one. John Groce was adamant that this was an issue both during the last game and during his press conference on Thursday. In the halfcourt, Colgate will likely struggle against the Illinois size and quickness.

2. Play with pace - This is mostly about Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul handling the ball and finding open teammates, while pushing it and making good decisions. Basically, being a point guard. It will be interesting to see how they react to the new system in a live game situation.

3. Post presence - Despite a great off season, big man Nnanna Egwu has struggled in the exhibitions at times on offense. He still blocked some shots and grabbed some rebounds, but appeared to play tight on the offensive end. You would like to see him get untracked.

4. Carpe diem - This is it for Paul, Richardson, Tyler Griffey and McLaurin for their college careers. Will they seize the day, step up and play like seniors sometimes do? A Chris Gandy type of season, for example. We'll know more on Friday night.


Prediction

Colgate isn't very good, so we won't (hopefully) learn a lot about the Illini in this one, but it should be a nice opportunity for John Groce to get some kinks out and begin to solidify a rotation and find out what works for his squad. Illinois should roll in this one, 84-59.




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