Three weeks ago Illinois was in free-fall mode and looked to be repeating its recent history of fast starts only to fade out come conference play, albeit under a new coach. But the Illini regrouped in early February and seem to have played themselves back into the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps it's simply a coincidence or maybe it was a brilliant coaching move, but there is no denying things changed right around the time coach John Groce banned his players from using Twitter. Here is how Groce explained his decision to the Chicago Tribune in a good profile of him published over the weekend.
"I believe in freedom of speech,'' Groce explained. "But you get off to a 12-0 start and social-media wise, it's like these guys are rock stars. Then you don't play as well, they're scum. I said, 'Fellas, that's the way of the world. The reality is you're not rock stars. You're not scum. You're somewhere in-between.' I wasn't sure we were staying level with social-media stuff.''
The Illini are 5-1 since Groce banned his players from using Twitter with two wins over ranked conference opponents and the loss coming to No. 7 Michigan on Sunday. Groce made his decision one day before his team upset No. 1 Indiana. Illinois has risen to a No. 6 seed in the latest edition of our Bracket Big Board.
Illinois was once ranked in the top 10 earlier this season, but fell into a funk as its level of competition increased when Big Ten play started. During a stretch from late-December to early February just before he took Twitter out of the equation his team went 3-8 and seemed headed for a hard fall. Groce has his own Twitter account, but it appears he stopped using it about two weeks before asking his players to stop tweeting.
The Illini host Nebraska on Saturday and finish on the road next week at Iowa and at No. 16 Ohio State