Prepping for the Buffaloes

With most of Colorado's games played on the West Coast, Illinois players didn't know much about their opening game opponent for the NCAA Tournament.

CHAMPAIGN - After the excitement of making the tournament had worn off, D.J. Richardson soon realized something about Illinois' opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

The senior guard hadn't seen the Colorado Buffaloes play this season.

"I didn't know anything about them," he said. "But obviously they're a good team if they're making the tournament and being a team that we're going to play against."

The two teams meet in the 7-10 matchup in the East Regional Friday in Austin, Texas.

Richardson, Brandon Paul and even Coach John Groce -- none of them had seen or heard much about Colorado (21-11, 10-8 Pac 12) before Sunday.

That's what the video staff and advanced scouting team is for.

Led by assistant Brandon Miller, the group records every televised game in the country. So while most people, including those who work in the Illinois basketball office, slept through most of Colorado's West Coast games, the DVR was keeping an eye out on them.

When Groce asked if there was any tape of Buffaloes games, he was told there was plenty to watch.

Before digging into that, he provided his general thoughts on Colorado coach Tad Boyle and the accustomed style of play he generates.

"He's teams are known for rebounding. They're well balanced," Groce said. "When I think of their teams, I think of discipline and defending, they're rated top 30 in the country defensively, so it's going to be a great challenge but one we're looking forward to."

The Buffaloes are led in scoring by Spencer Dinwiddie, a 6-6, 200-pound sophomore who is averaging 15.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game.

The balance that Groce is talking about is statistically evident, as four others join Dinwiddie in averaging nine or more points per game.

Another main contributor, Andre Roberson averages over 11 rebounds per game, but missed two games in early March due to a viral illness.

The San Antonio native has since played in two games and will be playing in his home state Friday.

"I'm happy for Andre getting to go back to Texas," Boyle said.

In terms of recent history, the Buffaloes were under .500 this season against teams in the tournament. Wins came against Colorado State (9-seed), Oregon (12-seed) twice and Arizona (6-seed). Losses included Kansas, UCLA, Cal and Arizona twice.

A common opponent, both Illinois and Colorado defeated Southern Cal. The Illini beat the Trojans 94-64 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. The Buffs won 66-60 at home in early January.

While Arizona played Colorado three times this season, Groce downplayed any advantage his friendship with Wildcats coach Sean Miller would provide.

"For us, we have rules in our league," Groce said, speaking of divulging information about schools in the Big Ten to those outside the conference. "I don't know what their rule is, I assume it's the same. Sean and I talk frequently anyway. Maybe a few thoughts here or there within what they're able to do, what they're allowed to do."

This will be the longest the Illini have had to prepare for a single opponent since December, so there's plenty of time for the staff to map out a plan and for the players to memorize the know-how. Aside from that, Groce says the experiences of the past four or five months -- road games at Hawaii, Gonzaga, the Maui Invitational, neutral court match-ups with Missouri and Auburn, the Big Ten regular season and the Big Ten Tournament -- were good preparation.

"We've seen a lot of different styles, lot of great environments, lot of great basketball teams, coached against a lot of really good coaches," he said. "I think our schedule has prepared us because I've seen about everything you could see, so we're blessed in that way."


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