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November 3, 2013

Groce looks for improvement in exhibition

As Illinois prepares for their final exhibition game on Sunday evening against Northwood (Mich.), John Groce is looking for improvement from his Illini squad. Between the Orange and Blue scrimmage and the first exhibition, Illinois looked much better on both ends of the floor and the Illini are looking for a similar type of improvement heading into the 5pm CT tipoff against the Division II program from up North.

Fans unable to attend the game will have the opportunity to watch via a live video stream at FightingIllini.com. The stream is part of Illinois All-Access on the Big Ten Digital Network (BTDN), available through a monthly ($9.95/month) or annual (79.95/year) subscription. Two other Fighting Illini basketball games on Nov. 17 and Dec. 10 will be streamed exclusively on Illinois All-Access on BTDN as well.

About Northwood….

The Timberwolves lost their first exhibition to Miami (Ohio) by a 76-71 score. They trailed by 18 late in the game before an end of the game run made it closer on the final scoreboard. They feature a much better frontcourt than McKendree, as 6-foot-6 forward Darvin Ham had 15 and 10 boards, while 6-foot-9 Center Will Bowles had 10 points and 15 rebounds, and leading returning scorer 6-foot-8 forward Wes Wilcox had 13 points and 6 rebounds. They grabbed 24 offensive rebounds and out rebounded the Redhawks 50-48. It will be a good preseason test for the Illinois frontcourt. The Timberwolves were 14-13 a year ago in the GLIAC.

Three things to watch…

1. Mixing and matching -As the Illini get closer to the real season opener, they have a much better idea of who will be in the rotation at the end of the day. Groce used four freshmen to make a run against McKendree and open it up after the veterans were a bit sluggish. The battle to be included in what looks to be a 9 man rotation will be a good one. Although Groce will likely use his five veterans to start, and they will once again get most of the minutes, how the freshmen fit into that rotation will be interesting to watch. Can Jaylon Tate continue his strong play? Who wins the Colbert and Morgan battle up front?

2. Shooting from deep - Coming off of a season when Illinois was one of the most frequent chuckers from behind the arc, the Illini shot just 3-18 from deep in their first exhibition. This time Illinois is using a more gameday like approach with regards to preparation, so it will be interesting to see how that translates on the floor. The Illini need to continue to attack and get to the line (38 free throw attempts in the first exhibition) with the new rules in place, but they also need to show some shooting prowess from the perimeter.

3. Interior dominance - Illinois dominated McKendree by forcing turnovers and controlling the glass. Northwood has historically handled the ball better and has a much bigger and stronger frontcourt. Although they are from a Big Ten team, this will be a good measuring stick for Illinois and especially their young big men as to how they control the paint against a more experienced group. Illinois outscored McKendree 56-18 in the paint, can they do it again against a more formidable frontcourt?

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