Topic: inging fans out of their seats, but the first

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Illinois team that takes the court in early November will look a lot different than the one that limped to a 15-19 record last season.Illini fans accustomed to no real point guard and few options at center will see a change at both positions, thanks in part to the return of sixth-year guard Tracy Abrams and center Mike Thorne Jr.In fact, assuming nothing changes by the Nov. 11 opener against Southeast Missouri, Illinois will have every player on its roster healthy for the first time in two years.None is more welcome than Abrams.The 6-2 point guard from Chicago turned 24 in February, is closing in on his third degree and believes he can be both the leader his team needs and a contributor at a position where last season Illinois sometimes lacked even one legitimate option.Abrams says now he never doubted he would make it back, and does not want to talk about what happened last season, including the arrests of teammates Leron Black, Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn. Charges against Tate were dropped while Black pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault and Nunn to misdemeanor domestic battery. Nunn was kicked off the team while Black and Tate are back.Thats important because we cant go back into time and try to change those things, he said. Its a different team. Its a different year.Beyond what Abrams can do at point guard, Illini coach John Groce sees him as a steadying presence.Where hes come from ... hes like having an old man out there, Groce said.Some of the key things to look for as Illinois starts its season:AT THE POINTIn his junior season, Abrams started all 35 games and scored 10.7 points a game and averaged 3.2 assists . Illinois will also have Tate, a senior who started 15 times last season but isnt a scorer, and freshman TeJon Lucas, who scored 20.5 points a game and averaged 7.8 assists as a high school senior in Milwaukee.BIG MENThornes return from a knee injury that cost him most of last season gives Illinois two legitimate centers, along with improving senior Maverick Morgan . Groce is counting on both for a team that last season lived on outside shooting and was near the back of the Big Ten in rebounding. Illinois will also hope the 6-7, 220-pound Black can contribute here, too.We better see a difference rebounding, Groce said. We should be a little more potent inside scoring.HILLS FINALEHaving those big men will also let Malcolm Hill spend more time on the wing his senior season. The 6-6 Hill led Illinois last season with 18.1 points a game, but he played everything from point guard to post. Hill insists that wasnt a problem.I was doing a lot, but not too much for me to handle, he said.TOURNEY TALKWhile his players mostly stick to a dont look too far ahead line when asked about the possibility of a return to the NCAA Tournament after three straight seasons away, Groce isnt shy about calling a trip back a goal.We want it to be an expectation, that thats what we do every year, he said.BOTTOM LINEGroce may need his team to get back to the tournament.After last season, he found himself sitting at a news conference listening to his new boss, athletic director Josh Whitman, tell reporters that the coach would keep his job in spite of the series of arrests. But Whitman has made a lot of the slogan We will win since he took over at his alma mater in February, and Groce, in his fifth season, has just the one trip to the NCAA Tournament so far.---Follow David Mercer on Twitter: (at)davidmercerAP Gary Harris Nuggets Jersey . 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Jusuf Nurkic Nuggets Jersey . Just as Montreal was settling into the first full working week of a new year, the Impact announced the appointment of their new head coach. TORONTO -- Guess it was a bit too early to start printing those Team North America championship T-shirts after all.And conversely, maybe the Russians dont need to book their flight back to Moscow just yet.In the space of 24 hours, the storylines for both teams went through the blender as Russias frenzied, hair-on-fire 4-3 victory over the talented young North Americans evened both their records at 1-1.The Russians, coming off an emotional 2-1 loss to Sweden in their first game, which included an overturned last-second potentially tying goal, looked lost for most of the first half of Mondays game. And the young stars, coming off a 4-1 mauling of Finland, looked early on like they just might be capable of racing right to the finals.Before the game was six minutes old, Auston Matthews scored his first goal in what will soon be his NHL home after Connor McDavid swept by Detroit Red Wings legend Pavel Datsyuk in the neutral zone to set up a 2-on-1. But the North Americans couldnt extend the lead, and midway through the second period, the Russians, historic underachievers at these international best-on-best tournaments, came alive. They chased Team North America goalie Matt Murray with a four-goal barrage in just over six minutes to take a 4-1 lead.But credit the youngsters with not caving. And the explosive to and fro that had been anticipated by these two high-octane teams was delivered with Team North America closing the deficit to one with goals by Morgan Reilly late in the second period and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the third.ddddddddddddBut a Russian team that looked like they were ready to fold up their World Cup of Hockey tent early on held fast, especially during an excruciating 1:34 of 5-on-3 for Team North America midway through the third period and then a frenzied final minute when the North Americans were once again on the power play.Three Stars1. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Russia: Playing on consecutive days, the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie was key in keeping the game within reach until his teammates emerged from hibernation. His play during the 5-on-3 was likewise key. He stopped 43 of 46 shots including 17 of 18 in the third period.2. Auston Matthews, RW, North America: Hey, this team had a handful of forwards who were once again dynamic bringing fans out of their seats, but the first overall draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs continues to show hes the real deal.3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Russia: The talented Washington center didnt have a great start, taking two minor penalties in the first period and then appearing out of sorts when he wasnt in the box. But he scored Russias third goal on an incredible individual effort blowing by Reilly and beating Murray. Better yet, he followed it up with a celebration in which he looked like a bird flapping its wings. Cheap NFL Jerseys Wholesale Jerseys Wholesale NFL Jerseys Jerseys From China Wholesale NFL Jerseys Cheap NFL Jerseys Cheap Jerseys ' ' '

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