Back In the Studio

Coach John Groce wants a playlist full of hits from his freshmen...

Spinning it forward, the performance of the Illinois freshmen at Penn State had head coach John Groce thinking about… Flock of Seagulls?

Or maybe it was A-Ha or Dexys Midnight Runners.

Groce first expressed during his Tuesday teleconference how proud he was of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, the first time starters who helped the Illini snap an eight-game losing streak on Sunday. He then added a comparison for caution.

"We'll see. I listen to a lot of 80s music," Groce said. "There's a lot of one hit wonders in the 80s. I don't want to be a one hit wonder."

Come On Eileen… I Ran (So Far Away)… Take On Me… Those songs came out many years before Nunn, Hill, Jaylon Tate, Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert were born. But Groce's point is probably an easy one to make — yesterday is in the past and tomorrow is the most important thing. The goal is to always make good music on the court.

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Fans had been clamoring for Groce to shuffle the starting lineup for some time. He said he gave it serious consideration in the weeks leading up to finally making the move, but Nunn and Hill had to earn it first.

"Per minute played they've been pretty aggressive offensively really throughout the last month, maybe longer," Groce said. "They've made some plays there. What I like is that both of them have started to grasp the defensive end and have given us some contributions there at the defensive end where maybe early on in the season they were just kind of out there trying to survive. Now they're helping us defensively. They have a greater understanding of what we're expecting them to do. They're more accountable on that end of the floor."

Once the young guys proved themselves worthy, Groce decided to insert them into the starting lineup for Joe Bertrand and Jon Ekey. Both fifth-year players, Bertrand's 10.6 points per game are third highest on the team. Ekey sits second in rebounding (5.4) and first in Matto points (hustle plays).

Sitting productive players months into the season in favor of first-year guys could have led to negativity. The fact both are fifth-year seniors, Groce said, made it easier in terms of chemistry and perception.

"I basically asked those two to sacrifice to see if it could change up our rotations and combinations and blend of our players throughout the game," Groce said.

"Those guys are pretty good players. … It certainly wasn't by any means a demotion."

Don't forget that Morgan and Colbert each scored four points on Sunday and Tate, while not as effective against the Nittany Lions, has had his moments in the recent memory, too. It's become clear that Groce has opened his rotations and combinations up, with a certain emphasize on a few aspects still the priority.

"The expectation doesn't change," Groce said. "They've got to be accountable with their defensive play, accountable with their rebounding and with their practice habits."

In other words, Groce is happy for the big hit. But he's looking for a full album, too.

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