Quick Hitters: Pre-Minnesota

Quick Hitters: Pre-Minnesota

Quick hitting news and notes as Illinois prepares for it's Wednesday matchup with No. 8 Minnesota.

- My, how quickly a team's mentality can change in college basketball. Following the Purdue loss, Illinois needed to get up off the mat and get ready for No. 8 Ohio State.

Now, after destroying the Buckeyes at home, the Illini must stay grounded while preparing for a talented Minnesota squad.

"We've got to handle that appropriately and bottle up that same toughness and togetherness that we had on Saturday and we've got to have that again tomorrow night against a very, very physical, athletic, deep, No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding (team)," Groce said.

- Despite the change in emotions, practices have remained the same -- physical in nature. Following the defeat at Purdue, Groce ran his players through toughness drills, seeking better results in rebounding and effort. It worked.

"Just because we won a game doesn't mean that's still not important moving forward," he said. "We did a lot of the same things yesterday that we did the day after the Purdue game when we came back from West Lafayette. A lot of the physical-type plays, the intangible-type plays, are the difference between being successful and not being successful, so it was a physical practice yesterday."

- The key to beating the Golden Gophers may once again center on an often-discussed area of the game for the Illini -- rebounding. As Groce mentioned, Minnesota is No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding, 19th overall with over 41 boards a game. Rebounding has been an issue for Illinois, but the team dominated the boards against Ohio State. It's once again a point of emphasis in the game plan for Minnesota.

"They're getting 48 percent back on the offensive glass," Groce said. "They're lights out on the glass."

- Leading the way on the glass is forward Trevor Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior who averages 7.7 rebounds while playing 19.1 minutes a game.

"He's a gifted rebounder, gifted athlete, physically strong, and he's a seeker of contact," Groce said. "You're either an avoider or a seeker. There's not in-between. He's a seeker. He's a load, he is, and he's older."

- Another name to watch is Andre Hollins, a sophomore point guard who leads the team in points (13.1), assists (3.5) and 3-point percentage (41%).

"He can make guys better, he defends, he's athletic, he's got good size, he's really, really talented," Groce said. "It starts with him on the offensive end. He's the one guy that can make a play for himself or for others without necessarily running offense."

- Redshirt freshman Devin Langford, who missed the last game due to illness, will be available Wednesday. He's averaging 4.9 minutes a game, but has shown the ability to create disruptions defensively when the Illini play zone.

"I think Langford is getting better, obviously he had a hiccup the other day," Groce said. "He was ill, wasn't able to play. Was under the weather and wasn't able to go, so that kind of took him a step back. I'm sure he'll keep moving forward and getting better."

- Speaking of the Illinois bench, Groce is pleased with what his reserves, particularly Joe Bertrand and Sam McLaurin, bring to the table.

"For your team to be good you need to have a sixth man, a seventh man, or at least one of them that's like a starter," he said. "That plays those type of minutes and produces at that level. If you don't you're team's probably not going to be real good, and Joe and Sam have done that at a pretty high level for us."

- Of note (and I think this is awesome), Manny Jackson will have his number raised to the rafters in Assembly Hall Wednesday. Jackson, along with Governor Vaughn, were the first-ever African-American starters at Illinois. He graduated in 1960, having overcome many instances of racism and terrible treatment. He went on to own the Harlem Globetrotters and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002.

"He's overcome a lot of things to get to where he is today," Groce said. "He's obviously meant a lot to Illinois and our basketball program. His accomplishments I think speak for themselves. He came at a time and an era where you had to have some courage and I really respect him for that. I look forward to seeing him here when he gets to campus. He spoke to our team in the fall and was very inspirational and very bright. He's certainly a proud representative of the university as well as Illinois basketball."

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