Perfect Illinois Hoops generates excitement

Perfect Illinois Hoops generates excitement

Football season is thankfully over. Good riddance, and time to move on to hoops.

First-year head coach John Groce has the Illinois Fighting Illini off to a 6-0 start this season. He is just the third Illini coach to begin his UI tenure with at least six consecutive wins.

Illini Win EA Maui Invitational;

Paul Named MVP, Richardson All-Tourney


Illinois claimed the Maui Invitational, winning the tournament for the first time in four tries after a runner-up finish in 2000 and third-place showings in 1987 and 2007. And the Illini did it in dominating fashion, posting winning margins of 30 points over USC, 23 points over Chaminade and 17 points over Butler. In fact, Illinois never trailed in 120 minutes of play in Maui, with only one tie (2-2 vs. Butler in title game’s opening minute). So they beat the Coach in Brad Stevens who turned down the Illini job. Redemption?

By the way, in the history of the Maui Invitational, only one champion, 1986 Vanderbilt, failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

Senior Brandon Paul earned tournament MVP honors, averaging 19.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists over the three games. He shot 51.4 percent from the field (19-37) and 47.6 percent from the arc (10-21) while making all 11 free throw attempts. He’s having plenty of senior moments already and could be a NBA draft pick.

Fellow senior D.J. Richardson was selected to the All-Tournament Team, averaging 12.7 points, team-highs of 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals, and 3.0 assists. He’s improved this season quite a bit. As has Tyler Griffey. In fact, Griffey seems to have a Warren Carter type development over his Illini career: bench guy for three years, main scoring threat senior year.

Dominance in Maui
• Illinois averaged 85.3 points (256) and outscored its opponents by an average of 23.3 points per game (85.3-62.0).
• Illinois shot better than 50 percent from the field (86-171) and more than 41 percent from 3-point range (34-82).
• The Illini were nearly automatic from the free throw line, making 50-of-56 attempts (89.3 percent).
• Illinois’ defense held opponents to under 39 percent shooting (68-175), including less than 28 percent from the 3-point arc (19-68).
• The Illini owned a rebounding margin of +8.3 (38.0-29.7).

Coaching Connection
Fresh off the Illinois-Butler game on Wednesday that pitted former staff members John Groce and Brad Stevens on opposing sidelines, it will be another reunion on Sunday at the Assembly Hall as John Groce faces close friend and former assistant Chris Holtmann. Now in his third year as head coach at Gardner-Webb, Holtmann was previously an assistant on Groce’s Ohio staff for two seasons (2009-10). Groce and Holtmann go back to their college days, when they were teammates at Taylor University in the early ’90s.

Gardner-Webb will be game though- they’ve beaten DePaul and almost took out the Hawkeyes.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Chicago, Walter, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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