Illini show need for change. Northwestern soaring. Big day at Big Ten tourney.

Quick takes from the first two days of the Big Ten tournament. . .

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ILLINOIS: I am reluctant to keep pounding on the John Groce situation. The facts are pretty clear.

This is Illinois’ worst five-year stretch in Big Ten play in more than 40 years. The Illini are set to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year, the longest drought in more than 40 years.

On the other side of the coin, Groce has an excellent group of recruits coming in. And his teams have shown flashes.

That, I believe, is an argument against him. Consistency matters.

Never mind Illini Nation. While watching the messy efforts at Rutgers last weekend and against Michigan on Thursday, I couldn’t but think that these players deserve better. . . coaching.

It’s not that Groce is terrible. He’s a good coach who will do well in his next job, whether he’s an assistant at a major program or a head coach at a smaller school.

He’s just not in the same league with John Beilein or any number of other Big Ten coaches. He may improve down the road. But coaching at the highest level of college basketball is a tricky deal. There are a lot of nuances involved.

And Illinois needs to find someone who has mastered them. The Big Ten gobbles up coaches who haven’t done that.

NORTHWESTERN: Leave it to Chris Collins. As if the Wildcats haven’t already done enough in this magical season, they seem to be playing their best basketball at the most important time of the year.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The 31 unanswered points, from down 9-6 to up 37-9, at the start of the Rutgers game, were a loud statement. NU is connected on offense. And more importantly, it is relentless on defense.

Athletic director Jim Phillips will need to have a lot of doubloons in the Purple war chest ready to keep Collins in Evanston if this keeps up the next few weeks.

INDIANA: Good for the Hoosiers. Just when we were ready to give up on IU, they showed some sinew against Iowa. If they can keep it going against struggling Wisconsin, the Hoosiers can sneak into the NCAA tournament and salvage something from this injury-riddled, turmoil-filled season.

That also would quash the quiet speculation that Tom Crean might be departing from Bloomington.

MICHIGAN STATE: It’s March. It’s Tom Izzo time.

MICHIGAN; Team on a mission. After the plane mishap that forced the Wolverines to regroup on short sleep and practice uniforms against Illinois, I couldn’t help but be reminded of John Belein’s family background.

Belien’s uncles and other family members were the inspiration for the movie ``Saving Private Ryan,’’ in which the military made it a priority to protect the surviving solider in a family that had already sacrificed.

I talked to Beilein about that when Michigan played in the 2013 Final Four. He was genuine and humble about that. And he has been genuine and humble about what the Wolverines have gone through this week.

A FRIDAY TO REMEMBER: We all know it’s not a great year in Big Ten basketball. (Although I do think the league is capable of putting two or three teams in the Sweet 16.)

But Friday’s four quarter-finals are a very nice set of games.

Can Michigan stay on its mission against top-ranked Purdue? . . . . Is surging Minnesota ready to keep it going against savvy Michigan State? . . . Can wobbly Wisconsin get its act together against suddenly-upbeat Indiana? . . . Is Northwestern, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the house, ready to deal with Maryland’s home-court advantage in Washington?

I was never a big fan of territorial expansion. Expanding the Big Ten was clearly about adding television sets at the cost of traditional rivalries.

But if the 14-team Big Ten has done one thing, the expanded pool of teams has created a great set of quarter-final matchups.[/membership]

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