Another Chance to Work

Illinois plays it's second exhibition of the season Sunday against Northwood (Michigan) at 5 p.m.

CHICAGO – Mostly flooded with general questions at Big Ten Media Day this week, Illinois coach John Groce was also asked specifically about Sunday's exhibition game against Northwood (Michigan).

Exhibition No. 2
Illinois vs. Northwood (Michigan)
State Farm Center - Champaign, Ill. - 5 p.m.

Given what most of the broad topics covered, the progression of new players, the development of leadership and the refinement of the lineup, the second-year coach provided the likely answer for what his expectations are.

"To be better than what we were against McKendree (in the first exhibition last week)," Groce said. "Better than we were."

The Illini defeated McKendree 101-66 in the season's opening exhibition. Illinois trailed by 11 in the first half and Groce let the team work its way back without calling a timeout.

"I thought they showed great poise," Groce following the game. "We didn't panic, we didn't flinch, we hung in there and stayed the course."

Groce's opinion of the days following the win varied. He said Monday's practice was, "awful," and then called Tuesday's session "terrific."

"It's that consistency piece that we're looking for," he said. "I'm demanding it early. We've got no excuses. We've got to man up and do what we're supposed to do on both sides of the ball and do it with energy."

Every step of the way provides a new experience for the five freshmen and four transfers that entered the program in the offseason. There was no scout work prior to McKendree because Groce said he wanted his players to focus on themselves, the offensive and defensive systems of Illinois to be their sole focus.

That test came and went and met Groce's approval.

Now the full scout schedule is in place for Northwood, It's an addition to the already enormous workload that junior Nnanna Egwu said would be a shock at first for the newcomers.

Player to Track: Jaylon Tate.
The freshman point guard had 13 points in the first exhibition, displaying a calm demeanor and a good feel for when to push the tempo.

Vying for time as the primary backup spot at the 1, Tate;s progression is important. He can use Sunday's exhibition to build confidence and become more comfortable leading others in the offensive system.

"You've got to be mentally in for all that, all the film, all the reading, all the analysis, stuff like that," Egwu said. "It's going to be an adjustment. I know when I came in I was like what is this? What is going on? We've got to do this? What is up?"

Picking up all that comes with playing at the college level is crucial for a player like Jaylon Tate. The freshman point guard logged a team-high 25 minutes and scored 13 points in his debut, furthering the belief that he'll be the primary backup to start Tracy Abrams.

Continuing the process is important for all the freshmen; a group Egwu says has displayed a good attitude toward learning since enrolling this summer.

"They understand that we prepare for every team the same," Egwu said. "It's going to be a long film, analysis of every single player, make sure everyone knows how each player plays, their weaknesses and strengths. It's going to be long. It's going to be tiresome for some of them. I feel they'll adjust and get used to it."

The season begins Nov. 8 against Alabama State. That came will officially count, but Groce has been persistent in his message that every day, every rep and yes, every exhibition counts.

"We've got to communicate better and make less defensive miscues on Sunday than we had against McKendree and the Orange and Blue (scrimmage). I think that would be a big deal for us. Continuing to share the ball and play at our pace on offense is a big deal for us. We're monitoring all those things."

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