Larkin and Johnson said Illinois reminds them of North Carolina, jacking up three-pointers.
Groce said Larkin reminds him of Michigan guard Trey Burke in two ways: “One is the fact that both of them can score, whether it’s the three-point shot, the midrange shot, or getting to the rim. When you do foul them, they make free throws. The second part is, as indicative of Larkin’s stat line [Friday], he had nine assists, is that they see things and have the ability to make guys better around them with the pass.”
Groce is a statistics freak who turned an average mid-major team to a Sweet16 team in his previous job. Sound familiar? The 41-year-old former math teacher is cut from the same mold as Larrañaga, a numbers cruncher who took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. Groce took No. 13 seed Ohio University to the Round of 16 last March.
He was hired by Illinois to replace Bruce Weber, who was fired after the team lost 12 of its final 14 games last season and failed to make the postseason.
When he gathered his Illini players for their first practice in October, he handed out orange wristbands inscribed with “TNT” (Toughness and Togetherness) and “3-19-13” (the opening date of the NCAA Tournament). They’re past that date now, and determined to reach 3-28-13.
“We’ve got our hands full,” Groce said of UM. “You don’t win the ACC unless you’ve done a lot of things right. Obviously, they’re well coached, they’ve got great size, depth, guard play, they’re very good defensively, so it’s a big challenge, but one we’re looking forward to.”
Power forward James Kelly, a three-star junior college player, announced on Twitter on Saturday that he has committed to UM. Kelly averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds this past season for Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio. His other offers included St. Bonaventure, Louisiana Tech and Marshall.
UM still might add three or four more players, in addition to Kelly and previous commitments DeAndre Burnett and Davon Reed. Football recruits Corn Elder and Derrick Griffin will walk on with the basketball team and could end up as rotation players, especially Griffin, if he qualifies academically.
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.