Evaluating John Groce to Illinois

As I write this, John Groce to Illinois is not yet a done deal. But the Internet is running fast and furious with it, and the Internet is never wrong. Right?

Anyway, who is this John Groce character? We know he’s D.J.Cooper’s coach. We know he beat Michigan and South Florida to make the Sweet-16. But what about his style? What should Illinois fans expect?

As usual, it all begins with tempo. Bruce Weber ran a fairly slow team. In his middle years they were ranked above 300th nationally in tempo, but then sped up near the end. His best teams were the early ones, with a tempo around 275th. How about Groce? Here’s where the two coaches ranked, nationally, side by side.


2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Weber 273 251 278 301 312 270 144 180 204
Groce 185 64 72 139


Jim Groce has only been a head coach for four years, and in his first his tempo was down in Weber’s wheelhouse. But then he sped things up, and averaged just under 100. Which, this year, would have been 3rd in the Big Ten.

In terms of offense and defense, here are the national ranks for Groce’s teams, compared to Webers. Though the caliber of player available in the Big Ten is different than the Mid American, so Illinois would expect to be higher. In other words, this isn’t a straight 1-to-1 comparison.

2009 2010 2011 2012
Weber offense 98 65 33 125
Groce offense 203 78 101 99
Weber defense 4 49 21 36
Groce defense 165 111 215 41

Weber’s teams have consistently been better on defense than offense. Groce’s teams have been more balanced. It will be intriguing to see how that plays out in the Big Ten.

Stylistically, Groce doesn’t do anything special on offense. It’s not a trick show, and it’s a balanced attack.

But on defense, there are a few things to take note of. Specifically, how often they force turnovers, how often they foul, and the emphasis they put on taking away the 3-pointer. Here are the numbers:

2009 2010 2011 2012
Forced turnovers 51 90 68 2
Opponent free throw rate 263 133 229 293
Opponent 3-pointers attempted 314 202 198 264

Groce clearly puts a priority on taking possessions away from the opponent. In 2012 Ohio was the 2nd best team in the nation at turning teams over. But it comes at a price. Certain teams (see Syrcacuse) have developed a way to force turnovers without fouling. But Ohio’s pressure defense is not able to do that. The number of turnovers forced, and the amount they send teams to the line are clearly correlated.

What about 3s? Ken Pomeroy has done a lot of analysis regarding 3-pointers recently, and the take home message is that the best way to defend them is to not allow them (something Mike Krzyzewski figured out a long time ago). Ohio does a great job not allowing them.

So how good of a hire potential hire is this for Illinois? It’s a reach, going for a relatively new mid-major coach. But the data looks good. Defensively sound, offensively balanced. His success won’t come down to X’s and O’s. Instead, it will be on recruiting and how well he can run a major conference program.