The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered their first loss last night to Mizzou, but they’re still 12-1. And nationally ranked. I think any Illinois fan would have taken 12-1 at this point when the season started. This Illini team will go as far as their seniors will take them. And I’m not talking about Tyler Griffey. Four year starter guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are the keys to the Illini maintaining that top ranking and getting a high seed in March. And then doing something with it.
There’s a big difference between this year’s team and last year’s. And it’s due to the coaching change from Bruce Weber to John Groce. And the new system in place. Richardson talked about the style.
“keep the floor spread, coach likes to play at a good pace,” he said.
“the guards are more involved with ball screens and keep the floor spaced, the guards don’t do too much getting in the paint, setting the screens and Weber was more more of a motion coach, coach Groce is more of keeping it spread,” he continued.
Sums it up perfectly. Weber wasn’t big on letting his shooters shoot. Groce is more trigger-happy and it pays off.
Richardson, the second leading scorer and rebounder on the team and leading three-point shooter. He did a lot of offseason work to work on his first step and his goal is to be the Big Ten Defensive player of the year. He did a lot of work with resistance bands around the knees
Brandon Paul leads the team in scoring, assists and rebounds. When he’s on, he might just be the best shooting guard in the nation. With him consistency is key.
“One thing that’s helped me is better shot selection. I know have a green light in the system, but at the same time I want to take shots within the offense as well as get my teammates the ball,” he said.
In addition to being the guy who stuffs the stat sheet, he has to be a leader in another way. His job is to be the coach on the floor.
“Just trying to keep everyone together and on the same page. There were some times last year when we hit a rough patch and kind of expanded apart,” he said about the 17-15 disaster in 2011-12. This year will be a huge challenge in conference play as the Illini will be in a league where it seems like everyone is ranked.
“I see what I’ve seen the past few years the best conference in the nation, there’s so many competitive guys and so many competitive coaches,” Paul said.
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