Quick Hitters: Pre-Wisconsin

CHAMPAIGN - Quick hitting news and notes as Illinois prepares for it's Saturday matchup with Wisconsin.

- After watching the film, John Groce echoed what he said following the Minnesota game.

"At the end of the day we didn't quite throw enough shots in and gave up too many mistakes in transition defense," he said during a teleconference Friday. "Other than that I thought our defense was pretty good."

No doubt, Minnesota is a good team and Illinois ran into a "buzzsaw" as Groce called it, where the Golden Gophers shot well and the Illini played uncharacteristically on the offensive end.

The effort and the right mentality was there though, a positive spin for Groce.

"We had our high for the year in toughness plays, charges, loose balls, block outs, screening, all the little intangible things that help your team be successful.

"Your execution in this league has to match your effort because the teams you're playing are so good, so well coached and can really make you pay or expose you for mistakes."

- With lessons learned from the previous game, the Illinois ready for a trip to Wisconsin.

"You can't be self absorbed in any win or lose in this league or your mind won't be right," Groce said. "Biggest thing we tried to do was get our bodies and minds right (Thursday)."

The Badgers are 11-4 and have opened Big Ten play 2-0 with wins over Penn State and Nebraska. The Illini struggled away from Assembly Hall against Purdue, but Groce isn't concerned about taking his group into hostile environments.

The Illini have already played eight games on opposing or neutral courts.

"I've got an older team," Groce said. "These guys have seen it all and this year's team has seen a lot.

"Because of that, because we played the competition that we played, because of where we played and who we played, the different styles, I think our guys have seen about everything. It comes down to playing with the type of mindset that we played with in the last two games. I thought our mindset was really good and I thought we played with some toughness and it comes down to executing and making some plays."

- As far as the Wisconsin personnel goes, Groce raved about senior center Jared Berggren.

The 6-10, 235-pounder is averaging 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But it's his defense that has Groce most impressed.

"They use him a lot like we kind of use (Nnanna) Egwu defensively," Groce said. "It kind of starts with him on the interior."

Offensively speaking, Berggren is an inside-out threat. Most of his points have come in the paint, but he's a 36 percent 3-point shooter on the season. He's also converted 77 percent of his free throws, which is always valuable for a big man.

- The tempo of the game will be something to monitor. The Badgers averaged 53 points in their two Big Ten games and don't mind playing in a half-court, slower-paced scenario.

Illinois favors an up-tempo style, averaging over 75 points a contest. There's an obvious clash of styles going on, but Groce said his team won't necessarily try to force Wisconsin to play faster than it wants to.

"When you play them over the years, it's hard to speed them up," Groce said. "They handle the ball so well. If you gamble and you become undisciplined they make you pay, so I think the reality of it is they may want a game with a certain tempo and we may want a game with a certain tempo -- it's probably going to be somewhere in the middle. Good teams have the ability to adapt. I mean it just kind of is what it is.

"The key is efficiency. Regardless of what the tempo or number of possessions end up, who's the most efficient within the possessions they get? How do they value those possessions? What's the quality of the possessions like? I think that's the key."

Join in on the discussion about the Illinois-Wisconsin game HERE, on the premium IlliniPlaybook message board.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories