Illini still looking to improve ahead of Challenge

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Illini still looking to improve ahead of Challenge

CHAMPAIGN Illinois is not resting on its laurels before its first game as a nationally ranked team under coach John Groce.

The ranking is nothing but a number, Groce said at his Tuesday press conference. Its early in the season, were just seven games in.

In the seven games the 22nd ranked Illini have played and won, many things have gone well for the team. However, Groce has seen just as many things he would like to improve. First and foremost, is improving on rebounding.

After Sundays late win over Gardner-Webb, Illinois starting forward, Tyler Griffey, and center, Nnanna Egwu, have pulled in a total of just 7.2 rebounds per game. The teams leader in rebounds is guard D.J. Richardson, who has picked up an average of five per game.

Groce says he is not particularly concerned with who is getting the rebounds because guards picking up rebounds is usually an indication of big men blocking out successfully but he would like to see an improvement in the teams total number of rebounds per game (36.6, 133rd nationally).

The overall rebounding percentage is what were spotlighting, Groce said. Weve had some games where weve done that well, weve had some games where we havent, but we need to be more consistent in that area.

Illinois opponent in the ACCBig Ten Challenge on Wednesday is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (4-1) have been a surprising team so far this year, placing third in the DirecTV Classic over the holiday by upsetting St. Marys.

Georgia Tech has averaged 37.2 rebounds and limited opponents to just 31.6 in five games. Groce described his Challenge opponent as a tough, physical team and acknowledged the difficulty of the task facing his team at the Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

They are terrific on the glass and very physical. We have to be ready for that and ready to fight on the backboard, he said.

The Illini has not had to fight too much on the backboard this season, simply because the shots keep falling. In the first NCAA statistical rankings of the season, put out this week, Illinois claimed the nations best three-point shooting average. Through seven games the team has made 76 threes, an average of 10.9 per game. Should they keep up the pace, this years Illini will set a new school record for threes per game.

The teams high clip from behind the arc clearly encouraged Groce, but the coach wants to see better offense all around from his team. Working the ball inside and finding the center in zone defense were two issues he specifically pointed out on Monday.

We have four guys averaging double figures. I'd like to get a fifth, Groce said.

Brandon Paul (18.7), Tracy Abrams (12.3), Richardson (12.0) and Griffey (10.9) are currently averaging double figures per game. Illinois next scorers are guard Joseph Bertrand (7.4) and Egwu (6.1), the center. The Illini will try to boost those two into double figures in Wednesdays contest against Georgia Tech.

Tip-off for Illinois 14th annual ACCBig Ten Challenge game will be at 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. Illinois comes into the game with a three-game winning streak in the Challenge, and, on the heels of their first ranking under Groce, the team will not be easy to defeat this year.

Haven't lost in the B1GACCchallenge in my career, don't plan on changing that anytime soon, Paul (@BP3) tweeted on Tuesday.

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 25 of 27 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.