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Illinois plans to have home-court edge in Big Ten tournament

A Illinois fan reacts as she watches her team play against Wisconsduring second half an NCAA college basketball game Big

A Illinois fan reacts as she watches her team play against Wisconsin during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big Ten Conference tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Thursday, March 7, 2013. Wisconsin won 58-57. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: March 28, 2013 7:34PM



There are pluses to playing in Chicago for Illinois. And there are minuses.

“I love playing up there,” coach John Groce said. “The only drawback is my wife gets to go and she likes to shop. So my pocket starts to burn. But I love the city. I love my Chicago Bears. We’re looking forward to going up there.”

The Illini, who play at the United Center every December, might have an edge in terms of familiarity when they open the Big Ten tournament Thursday against Minnesota.

They definitely expect to have a home-crowd edge.

“It should be. We’re at home,” said Orr alum Myke Henry, one of seven Illini from the Chicago area. “I know my family and friends are going to come.”

Brandon Paul, of Warren in Gurnee, prefers the UC to Indianapolis, where the tournament has been held the last five years. But he isn’t reading too much into the home-town advantage.

“It’s a lot better [than Indy],” Paul said. “It’s closer to home, and we have a lot of Chicago guys. But we have to come out with a chip on our shoulders. We can’t worry about how many fans we have there. We have to worry about how we’re going to play.”

It’s also an opportunity for Illinois to raise its profile in Chicago. That’s athletic director Mike Thomas’ goal, but Groce isn’t accepting that burden for this Big Ten tournament.

“I don’t know about that,” Groce said. “I know we have to play well on Thursday. That’s what I’m worried about. We have several guys from up there. But our guys know, at this time of year, it’s a business trip. We want to be loose and aggressive and enjoy and embrace the moment as much as we can. That’s what March is about.”

Considering that the Illini and the Golden Gophers are two of the most enigmatic teams in the Big Ten, it’s difficult to know what to expect. They were ranked in the top 10 nationally but tailed off in conference play. Each won on the other’s home court.

Groce was encouraged that his players were hanging around the gym after practice this week.

“I had to lock up the balls to get them out of there,” he said. “I always think that’s a good sign.”

He’ll find out soon enough.



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