Notes and Quotes: Big Ten Tournament Preview

Andrew Kahn
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To preview this week’s Big Ten Tournament, the head coaches participated in a conference call with the media this morning. Michigan coach John Beilein and Illinois coach John Groce previewed their matchup (Thursday, noon, BTN).

Groce is proud of the way his team has played the last month, praising their “toughness” and “togetherness.” Illinois enters the Tournament having won five of its last seven, including two wins over Northwestern. The Illini had won four in a row before losing the regular season finale at Rutgers. He said Michigan will pose a “great challenge” because they are “playing well right now on both ends of the floor.”

Asked what he could take from the two games against Michigan earlier this season (each a comfortable win for the home team), and what he’s seen from the Wolverines lately, Groce said:

“You can take a little from them, the two games. … We’re different teams (now). From an outsider’s perspective, I think they’re playing really well down the stretch. Both of us are playing some of our better basketball. Great challenge on Thursday. You can take a little bit from those films. … In some sense, it seems like such a long time ago we played the two games and they were relatively close to each other. I think there are some significant differences (now) in terms of quality of play.”

Beilein said Illinois is playing “as good as anybody in the league these last three weeks.” At the time of the call, he had only watched a couple of Illinois’ games against other teams. As for what could be gleaned from the prior two meetings:

“Both teams played really well on their home court. Now we’re neutral, so expect a buzzer-beater type of game. Both teams have some experience. We both have talented players. John’s got a great plan over there. I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is we’re going to do everything to get prepared to play a really good team that’s really hot right now.”

Illinois’ big men, particularly Maverick Morgan, torched Michigan with mid-range jumpers in the first game, but didn’t have much success in the rematch. Beilein believes that is because Michigan’s bigs improved defensively and they had a better game plan.

“I don’t think we picked up on how good their big men could shoot the ball. They shot it really well at Illinois. Sometimes you’re playing guys in different gaps as how you will close out on them. If you are late to your close out, they’re going to put it right in your face. That was a big thing. And Kipper Nichols was really good. He kept them in the game off the boards (eight rebounds including five offensive) and really played well in the game in Champaign.”

Beilein wouldn’t go as far as saying the win over Illinois was the start of Michigan’s late-season surge. “All I know is our team has improved defensively, and I knew it would. The numbers we were putting up defensively were astronomical. I’ve never seen anything like it. Where we still have not become a super defensive team, we’ve improved dramatically there. I’d put it more on those things than that was the game that gave us confidence.”

Beilein also added that he thinks hosting the Tournament in Washington, D.C., is a “great idea.”

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Illinois is dangerous but I like our chances, with how we are playing lately we are dangerous…BigTen is wide open, neutral court is a different beast…winner of this game could easily give Purdue a good run or even beat them…we are definitely a different team from when we lost @ IILINOIS…still close game @ Mich but both teams have got better sine then…Rutgers lose shows big flaws with Illinois we can take advantage

    • MH_20

      The final score of the game at Crisler is not indicative of how the game actually played out. It was 60-39 with 4:34 left when UI made a little run to make the score less embarrassing. Michigan never led by less than 10 after the 18:00 mark of the second half until the waning seconds of garbage time. It was a blowout.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        Oh ok, we should get a comfortable win in that case – we are a much better team overall right now, and we have a lot of momentum/confidence riding into post-season play

  • Harry Huntoon

    You’d have to think that Illinois will extend their defense and try to run Michigan off the three point line…’take away their strength.’ That should open up driving, pnr and maybe we can get some low post play going…maybe a few extra offensive rebounds. Michigan has struggled some when the perimeter gets crowded with defenders. Walton will need to ratchet up the passing if they try and limit his offense.

    • bobohle

      I think his assist numbers from last night show he already has.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Think if we made the B!G Final we could get to a 7 or 6 seed?

    • malcolm bolt

      Could be hard to be a 6 seed without winning the Final. I think Michigan would have had to have run the table in the BTT along with winning its last four regular season games to get to a 6.