John Groce adopts unusual method to prepare Illinois to play faster

If the Big Ten had already gradually been moving away from the plodding, half-court-oriented style that has been its trademark the past few decades, then expect new-look Illinois to continue that trend.

New coach John Groce intends to run as much as possible next season, a strategy he has reinforced by introducing an unusual rule to summer pickup games at Ubben Basketball Complex.

"We've got a 24-second shot clock now. That puts it into perspective for you, what our offense is going to look like," sophomore big man Nnanna Egwu told "It's fast-paced. Being able to get steals, get on fast breaks, quick outlets. And he's big on conditioning.

"Every player has to be conditioned, from the big men to the guards. We've all got to run and be able to run for 40 minutes a game."

Illinois' transformation into a more fast-paced team would fit the direction the league has gone in recent years with the addition of Thad Matta, Fran McCaffery and Tom Crean. All three of those coaches prefer an up-tempo style, contributing to a rise in the tempo of Big Ten games as a whole.

Sometimes it can take a couple years for a new coach to fully implement his system, so the question for Illinois will be whether it has the personnel to play at the pace Groce prefers. The Illini played at the fourth-highest tempo among Big Ten teams last season under Bruce Weber, but they struggled offensively, producing more turnovers (430) than assists (400) and only scoring 0.97 points per possession in Big Ten play.

Complicating matters is that Illinois has only one point guard on next season's roster, sophomore-to-be Tracy Abrams. Weber had secured commitments from Class of 2012 point guard Michael Orris and Class of 2013 point guard Jalen James, but both players have since decided to look elsewhere.

Abrams, a former top-60 recruit, averaged 4.3 points and 1.9 assists as a freshman. He'll need to make a big leap by the start of the season or Illinois may have to admit it doesn't have the pilot it needs yet to direct its new fast-paced attack.