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Malcolm Hill, Bakary Konate

Illinois senior star Malcolm Hill has gotten leaner and more explosive this offseason, according to coach John Groce.


INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it earlier in the week on a Big Ten coaches teleconference: Teams that get a headstart on playing games in a conference tournament sometimes have an advantage because they already have played a game on the floor and gotten the jitters out.

And no team in the history of the Big Ten tournament ever has gotten more of a running start than Illinois did Wednesday.

The Illini knocked down a tournament-record 14 3-point field goals and won by a tournament-record 33 points, routing Minnesota 85-52 and moving into a second-round matchup today against an Iowa team that will be seeing its first action of the week at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

The Hawkeyes (21-9) are the fifth seed and the Illini (14-18) are the 12th, but coach John Groce’s team left the court feeling pretty good about itself Wednesday.

“It's nice momentum to carry us to the second game,’’ Illini forward Malcolm Hill said in the post-game news conference. “We're happy we got this one but as soon as we leave this room, we are going to put our mindset on Iowa and get ready to attack, have a game plan for them. I think that's going to be a big time for us.’’

Iowa already has an NCAA tournament berth wrapped up. Its primary motivation this weekend is to try to build some momentum of its own and possibly improve its seed in the Big Dance.

The Illini, who suffered a 77-65 loss to Iowa on Feb. 7 in Champaign, realistically don’t have anything to play for. They would need to win the entire tournament, winning five games in five days, to even reach the .500 mark for the season. But that seemingly has created a loose, carefree atmosphere.

“To come into the tournament, we wanted to start out with a fresh mindset, the records and things like that, out the window,’’ junior guard Kendrick Nunn said.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said earlier in the week that he figured his team would face a challenge if it ended up playing Illinois. And that was before the Illini shot the lights out against Minnesota.

“Any team that has Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Jalen Coleman-Lands …’’ he said. “I think (Maverick) Morgan is playing extremely well, (Khalid) Lewis, I have been impressed with him.

“So they have got some really solid shot-makers. They have size coming off the bench.’’

Groce said after Wednesday’s win that he hoped his players realized that game had little to do with what happens today.

“You have to bring it again tomorrow,’’ he said. “You have to compete again tomorrow. You have to compete on the backboard tomorrow. You have to sprint and talk and communicate and move the ball, and you have to do it again … We will have our hands full tomorrow.’’