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Illinois coach John Groce looking to conjure his old March magic

FILE - In this Feb. 13 2013 file phoIllinois head coach John Groce talks with D.J. Richardsduring timeout an NCAA

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2013, file photo, Illinois head coach John Groce talks with D.J. Richardson during a timeout of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue in Champaign, Ill. Since day one, Richardson's strengths have been hustle and defense and, while he's never become the big offensive force some thought he might be after his freshman season when he was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, he's still Illinois' stopper. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann, File)

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BIG TEN
TOURNAMENT

at United Center
Seeds 2-5, 7-8 are TBA

Thursday

11 a.m.: No. 8 Illinois/Purdue vs. No. 9 Minnesota, BTN

1:30 p.m.: No. 5 vs.
No. 12 Penn State, BTN

5:30 p.m.: No. 7 Illinois/
Purdue vs. No. 10 Nebraska, ESPN2

8 p.m.: No. 6 Iowa vs.
No. 11 Northwestern, ESPN2

Friday

11 a.m.: No. 1 Indiana vs.
No. 8/9 winner, ESPN

1:30 p.m.: No. 4 vs.
No. 5/12 winner, ESPN

5:30 p.m.: No. 2 vs.
No. 7/10 winner, BTN

8 p.m.: No. 3 vs. No. 6/11
winner, BTN

Saturday

12:40 p.m.: No. 1/8/9 winner vs. No. 4/5/12 winner, Ch. 2

3 p.m.: No. 2/7/10 winner
vs. No. 3/6/11 winner, Ch. 2

Sunday

2:30 p.m.: Championship, Ch. 2

Updated: April 11, 2013 6:48AM



Illinois coach John Groce knows March. He guided Ohio to shocking upset victories as a No. 13 and a No. 14 seed in the last three NCAA tournaments.

He also knows that you never know in college basketball, particularly as a season winds down. That has been especially true lately — at Illinois, in the Big Ten and around the country.

So he readied the Illini for their final regular-season game Sunday at No. 14 Ohio State understanding that unpredictability is all part of the game.

The feeling is that Illinois’ tough shooting night Tuesday at Iowa, when it shot a season-low 29 percent in a 63-55 loss, was the product of a heightened Hawkeyes defense as well as a messy Illini offense.

‘‘Sometimes it happens,’’ Groce said. ‘‘You have to find ways to grind it out.’’

Illinois will be more intent on doing that against the Buckeyes. Because at this time of year, scoring becomes a more difficult proposition.

‘‘A lot of it is that teams take stuff away,’’ Groce said. ‘‘You’re playing teams for the second time, in a lot of cases. People know your tendencies. There’s more video than ever, more statistics on tendencies. Also, the X-factor that you’re dealing with 18- to 20-year-olds adds to the unpredictability.’’

What’s the answer?

‘‘You might put in a wrinkle or two, but at this time of year, you are who you are,’’ he said. ‘‘At this time of year, a lot of it comes down to toughness and determination.’’

Unlike fans and media who wonder about the Illini’s sputtering offense, Groce has moved forward, employing the techniques that have served him in March.

‘‘The most important thing is that they’re mentally and physically fresh,’’ he said. ‘‘And each team’s different. There’s no script. You have to know your guys, what they respond to, what they don’t respond to. But the one steadfast constant is doing the best you can to keep them as fresh mentally and physically as possible.’’

Win or lose in Columbus, Illinois is a virtual lock to play in the NCAA tournament. It’s also locked into a seventh (with win) or eighth (with loss) seed at the Big Ten tournament. What it does
before Selection Sunday will influence where it might land on the NCAA bracket, which might influence its chances to give Groce another memorable March.

Groce’s old boss, Ohio State coach Thad Matta, and the Buckeyes are jockeying for the same things. Coming off an upset victory Tuesday at Indiana and owning a 15-2 record at home, Ohio State will pose a tall task for the Illini.

But Illinois, which defeated the Buckeyes 74-55 on Jan. 5 in Champaign, has done a good job of bouncing back all season. And in the unpredictable world of college basketball, you never know.



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