Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

John Groce continues to make strides in rebuilding the program

Updated: October 22, 2013, 3:59 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | ESPN Insider

Joseph BertrandJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesJohn Groce's squad will rely on Joseph Bertrand's experience and skill.

Illinois Fighting Illini

2012-13: 23-13 (8-10)
In-conference offense: 1.00 points per possession (6th)
In-conference defense: 1.02 points per possession (6th)

The roster churn is on in Champaign, as the final vestiges of the Bruce Weber era fall away and the future under John Groce begins to take shape. There are plenty of signs that future will be a bright one for the Fighting Illini.

Groce worked wonders with Weber's leftover core last season as Illinois jumped from 17-15 to 23-13, and won just its third NCAA tournament game since 2005 before losing a heartbreaker to Miami in the round of 32. For a while, it looked like Groce -- not a hugely popular choice as Weber's successor -- would be a miracle worker. Illinois won its first 12 games and climbed to No. 10 in the AP poll before falling to Missouri just before Christmas.

With a new focus on ball protection and second-chance points, Illinois jumped from 126th to 41st in Ken Pomeroy's adjusting offensive efficiency rankings. Perhaps just as impressive, Groce oversaw another high-level defensive effort despite the loss of center Meyers Leonard to the NBA. Reality set in once Big Ten play started, as Illinois dropped six of its first eight and ended up finishing in the middle of the pack on both ends of the floor. Ultimately, the university's brass saw enough, handing Groce a fat raise and a contract extension through 2018.


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