The Illinois Fighting Illini open up their exhibition schedule tonight against McKendree University at State Farm Center. This will be the first of two exhibition scrimmages that the Illini will play to begin their 2013-2014 campaign.
The McKendree Bearcats are entering their first full season as a member of NCAA Division II. They use to be members of the NAIA before making their move to NCAA DII in 2010. They will also begin their second season as members of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
The Bearcats are returning four starters from last year’s squad and will look to improve upon their 7-21 record in 2012-13.
The two most important returnees for the Bearcats are senior guard Clinton Happe and junior guard Mike DiGregorio. Both Happe and DiGregorio averaged double-digit points per contest (18.3 and 11.3 respectively).
One of the biggest things head coach John Groce will need to figure out starting tonight will be what kind of combinations can he put together on the court.
The Fighting Illini have nine new faces on this team with only five being freshman. It will be interesting to see how players like Jon Ekey and Rayvonte Rice perform in their first official contest as members of Illinois basketball.
Overall, coach Groce is looking for a much better performance from his Fighting Illini tonight compared to last week’s Orange & Blue Scrimmage.
In an interview on Wednesday, Groce mentioned how he didn’t like the team’s performance in the scrimmage “at all.” He will be looking for the Illini to play harder, run faster, and improve the screen defense.
When asked about how his players have taken his criticism, Groce simply said:
“I’ve told them that it’s a coach’s job to define reality for them. So the reality was that we were not very good last Thursday. We gotta be a lot better.”
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