Big Ten M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. On Tuesday night, Iowa suffered an embarrassing 32-point loss at Wisconsin. While that certainly wasn’t the outcome the Hawkeyes were hoping for, it didn’t hurt their postseason aspirations in the grand scheme of things. However, an incident that occurred during the game has escalated into an off-court dispute between head coach Fran McCaffery and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich. The issue in question was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury intentionally poked two different Wisconsin players in the eyes. Dakich felt his actions were intentional and called the Hawkeyes junior “cowardly” and “gutless” as a result. On his weekly radio show, McCaffery responded to Dakich’s accusation by saying that “It’s absolutely inexcusable that his network would allow him to say those things” and later demanded an apology. Dakich is known for being boisterous but he may have crossed the line with his harsh criticism here.
  2. On Wednesday night, Michigan State eked out a win at home against Penn State. The Spartans have been unusually mediocre this season and are right now headed for a relatively low seed in the NCAA Tournament — or worse yet, the bubble. A major issue has been the poor performance from their veteran backcourt of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Despite being Tom Izzos’ top two scorers, they haven’t been aggressive of late and are shooting 45 percent and 39 percent from the field on the season, respectively. The frontcourt has been picking up the slack, but if history is any indication, the Spartans will need to have their guards play well to have any kind of late-season success.
  3. A battered Illinois team managed to fend off Purdue and get a much-needed win in Champaign on Wednesday night. Before the game the school announced that Aaron Cosby would be out for two weeks due to an eye injury he sustained in the Illini’s previous contest against Indiana. This meant that freshman Leron Black would get an opportunity to showcase the potential many saw in him at the beginning of the season. And boy did he ever. Black had a breakout night, registering his first career double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) and hitting the dagger three to seal the game. If the Memphis native can turn his seemingly endless energy level into consistent production, the Illini will have yet another backcourt weapon at their disposal when they get back to full health.
  4. No team may be having a better week than Indiana. After getting an important road win at Illinois on Sunday, the Hoosiers backed it up with a statement win by blowing out Maryland in Assembly Hall on Thursday night. Currently, Mark Turgeon and Bo Ryan are the front-runners for B1G Coach of the Year, but Tom Crean should also be considered for the job he’s done this season. This program was thought to be on the decline — and the firing of its head coach imminent — after a turbulent offseason and dubious loss to Eastern Washington in November. But Crean has managed to keep his team together and now has the Hoosiers tied for first place in the conference standings.
  5. Finally, as we found out last weekend, Michigan’s Caris LeVert is done for the season because of a fractured foot. But last Saturday’s game against Northwestern may have also been Levert’s last game in a Michigan jersey given that the junior LeVert is projected to be a first-round pick. If he declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft in April, that would mean John Beilein has turned a once-unheralded recruit into a first round pick going on three years in a row (Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas are the others). That might be a nice thing to brag about, but all of the attrition from unexpected sources has to be frustrating on some level and possibly make it more difficult to get Michigan back into contention for Final Fours.
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Aaron Cosby’s Injury Hurts Illini But Not Insurmountably

Posted by Eric Clark on January 22nd, 2015

llinois’ season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, as its roster has been ravaged by injuries on its way to a mediocre 13-7 overall record (3-4 Big Ten). News released prior to Wednesday night’s game against Purdue (a 66-57 win) revealed that junior guard Aaron Cosby tore the retina in his left eye early in Sunday’s 80-74 loss to Indiana, playing approximately 16 minutes with the injury. The Seton Hall transfer went 0-of-5 from three-point range in that game, but has been a solid contributor — 7.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG — for John Groce’s team all season. The junior is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Illinois’ backcourt was one of the deepest in the Big Ten heading into this season with experienced guards Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice returning, young but seasoned sophomores Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn back, and transfers Ahmad Starks and Cosby entering. Abrams of course tore his ACL before the season even began, and Rice is currently sidelined with a broken hand. Hill has been solid – his high-water mark of 28 points and seven rebounds coming in the team’s upset of Maryland. Cosby was a 38.8 percent three-point shooter in his two years at Seton Hall and was expected to be a legitimate scoring threat but he has struggled from both long-range (31.1 percent) and inside the arc (25.9 percent). His turnover rate is also the second highest among Illini guards this season (15.3 percent). Despite all of those ugly offensive numbers, Illinois’s disappointing season will be worse for wear without him in the lineup for the next two weeks.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

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  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Northwestern has gotten off to a decent 10-6 start overall with an extremely young lineup. Vic Law came from Chicago’s famed Catholic League as what Wildcat fans hoped would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chris Collins and the Windy City’s best high school players. Fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh has shined, while Law has struggled to adapt to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.  It’s too early to write him off as a bust, but Law needs to produce more than the 2.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG he has contributed in his first three B1G games.
  2. While things haven’t been great this season for Michigan, they have something to look forward to on January 24. Consensus top five wing Jaylen Brown will make an official campus visit on that Saturday when the team takes on Wisconsin at the Crisler Center. Brown would obviously be an enormous coup for the Wolverines. The team they have this season is mainly made up of underclassmen. Even if Caris LeVert were to leave early, having Brown to go along with most of the pieces that should return to Ann Arbor could make the 2015-16 Michigan unit one to be reckoned with in the league next season.
  3. Hanner Mosquera-Perea suffered a knee injury on Monday in practice, leaving Indiana and their already undersized frontline even smaller. The junior from Columbia is averaging 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG this season in a little under 21 minutes of court time. He had been in Tom Crean’s doghouse for getting into early foul trouble in recent games, and now it looks as though Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman will get most of his minutes inside for the Hoosiers. Hartman played 23 minutes with Holt logging 13 in their win over Penn State last night, but it’s worth monitoring the situation to see how Indiana survives after going from very little size to no size at all.
  4. Frank Kaminsky will be back in the Wisconsin lineup Thursday night when they take on Nebraska in Madison. The senior who leads the team in four major categories (points, rebounds, steals, and blocks), missed the loss against Rutgers after suffering a concussion in the Purdue game last week. The Badgers will still be shorthanded as they will be missing Traveon Jackson due to injury, but with Nebraska playing better with their whole team now healthy, the return of Kaminsky is needed.
  5. Illinois faces a critical test when they travel to Evanston to face their in-state rivals tonight. Despite losing Sunday night against Nebraska, their defensive effort was pretty solid. The problem they’re having without Rayvonte Rice is that they simply can’t shoot the ball. Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette broke down just how pedestrian the shooting numbers have been as of late. Two specifics he mentioned were the fact that Nebraska played off of Jaylon Tate, daring him to shoot from deep. He also mentioned the fact that Nnanna Egwu simply can’t score in the post when he isn’t facing up. If Aaron Cosby and/or Ahmad Starks can break out of their collective year-round slumps, then things might change. Otherwise this team will be buried before Rice returns to the lineup.
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Big Ten M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 12th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news of the weekend was Rutgers 67-62 upset win over Wisconsin Although the Badgers were without Frank Kaminsky (concussion-like symptoms) and lost Traevon Jackson during the game, the Scarlet Knights second Big Ten win is still a quality one. Those injuries, however, could continue to hurt the Badgers beyond today’s loss. Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com reported that assistant coach Greg Gard said Jackson’s foot injury isn’t good and he’ll have it evaluated further back in Madison. Kaminsky‘s presence was certainly missed as Rutgers, the worst-shooting team in the conference, drained shots at a 66.7% clip in the second half on Sunday. If there was any doubt that Kaminsky is the engine that makes this team go, it was emphatically erased on Sunday.’
  2. Illinois’ loss of Rayvonte Rice didn’t seem to hurt them in last Wednesday’s win over Maryland, but he was sorely missed after Sunday’s loss at Nebraska. The Illini play great defense with or without Rice, as they hold the 36th best defensive efficiency rating in the country and have yet to allow an opponent to score over 80 points this season. Their offense is another story – they shot 27.3 percent from the field on Sunday. The Champaign Room said Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby’s play simply has to get better in order for the Illini to have any success the rest of the year. The two are shooting 32.6 and 28.5 percent from the field this year respectively.
  3. Maryland added some girth to its frontcourt this weekend as Ivan Bender, a forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted immediate eligibility. Bender, who stands at 6-foot-9, averaged 14.3 points and 9 rebounds per game with KK Split of the Junior Euroleague. The Terrapins already have junior Jake Layman and senior Evan Smotrycz at power forward, so it’s unlikely that he’ll crack any playing time right away in that position. They are quite young at the center position, however, playing sophomore Damonte Dodd and freshman Michal Cekovsky a majority of the time. It won’t be a surprise if Mark Turgeon decides to redshirt Bender, effectively staggering the eligibility of all of his big men.
  4. Northwestern fell at the hands of Michigan State in overtime on Sunday, but it seems the Wildcats picked an infamous moral victory, even if they won’t admit it. But that moral victory shouldn’t be enough for Northwestern -they should have won the game, but they again fell victim to ‘hero ball’ writes Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell. Had the Wildcats operated their offense like they did for the first 39 minutes of the game for the entire 40, head coach Chris Collins might be tabbing Sunday’s game as a signature victory for the program. In the end, it seems that Northwestern just got tired and opted for one-on-one matchups versus team basketball late in the second half and in overtime – and it cost them the game. But the ‘Cats are young, and this experience will certainly serve them well in the future.
  5. Michigan and Minnesota faced off on Saturday, two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions after the non-conference slate at the end December. Michigan was reeling from losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan while Minnesota was high off of an 11-2 non-conference record. The directions of those teams seemed to have flipped though, as the Wolverines downed the Gophers, pushing Michigan’s Big Ten record to 3-1 and dropping Minnesota’s to 0-4. Richard Pitino didn’t offer any answers to his team’s struggles after the game, but he had better figure some out. While the Gophers are considered one of the best passing teams in the country, the rest of their game is not up-to-par. And with a matchup with Rutgers looming, Minnesota may have its hands full with a confident team fresh off of a monumental upset.
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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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John Groce’s January Drearier Than Usual With Rice Injury

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2015

It appears safe to say that January may not be John Groce’s favorite month. In the two and a half seasons he’s spent as the head coach at Illinois, the 43-year old Indiana native has gone 3-13 in the first month of the year, including Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Things will not get any easier for him in coming weeks as news was released today that his leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, will be sidelined for five to six weeks with a broken hand that he sustained during Monday’s practice. This is a devastating blow to Groce and his already-struggling offense as the Illini now have to slog through much of the rest of Big Ten play without their best offensive player.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce faces his most difficult challenge yet with Rice out for the remainder of Big Ten play.

Rice’s injury may turn out to be the final wave that capsizes the boat on the Illini’s unfortunate and disappointing season. While a quick look at their resume may not visibly show a sinking team, this squad has not lived up to preseason expectations. With the introduction of two sharpshooting transfers in Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby and an additional year of development for the sophomore duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, this season’s Illini were supposed to have resolved last season’s offensive inadequacies. Things initially went according to plan early, but Starks and Cosby have gone cold from the field since December (a combined 31 percent from the field in the last eight games), and Nunn, who started the season injured, has never returned to the same level of play he showed at the end of last season. Hill may be the only player who has lived up to his expected billing, but he too has managed to disappear in a few games.

The only constant for Illinois had been Rice, and now they are without their rock. The Illini will miss more than his scoring, as the senior guard provides contributions all over the court — 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 48.3% 3FG — but perhaps the most telling statistic that shows his impact is the gulf between his Player Efficiency Rating (31.9) and the next best player, Hill’s (22.5). Now, midway through a trying season, Groce will need to reinvent his roster with the same players who have disappointed him all season. In order to salvage something out of it, someone will have to emerge in the next six weeks to help mitigate the loss of Rice. Otherwise, this winter of Illini discontent will last a lot longer than just January in Champaign.

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Some Big Ten X-Factors That Will Shape the Conference Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2014

It’s easy to sit here and write that players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell will be key factors in how the Big Ten race shapes up once conference play begins this week. It’s a little harder to dig deeper and find several of the league’s non-superstars who will also have significant roles in the final determinations. Is it the freshman who starts to understand the speed of the game and plays much better with a few games under his belt? Or is it the underachieving senior who plays with an increased urgency now that his career is coming to a close? Here’s a look at several non-household Big Ten players who will be key cogs for their teams over the next couple of months.

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

  • Bronson Koenig: The sophomore guard struggled in his first five games, only averaging 2.8 PPG on 33 percent shooting from the floor. Since then, he’s increased his output to 6.3 PPG on 40 percent shooting over seven games. The Badgers have not yet really replaced the three-point production of Ben Brust despite their 12-1 record, so Koenig will need to be a more consistent offensive option when he gets called upon.
  • Aaron Cosby: Illinois has done a good job in being less reliant on Rayvonte Rice this season. His usage rate has only dropped only a bit (from 26.6 to 25.8 percent), but his minutes are reduced as well (27.8 MPG). The Illini’s offense is therefore more balanced, and it will be even better if Aaron Cosby can regain his shooting touch. In Illini wins, Cosby has made 36.5 percent of his shots from distance. In three losses, he’s made only 20.0 percent. He’s done a good job contributing in other ways — like when he grabbed seven rebounds in a win against Missouri — but Cosby is in Champaign to make jump shots. If he can get things rolling and shoot like he did when he was at Seton Hall for his first two seasons (nearly 40 percent from three), Illinois will be hard to stop.

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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the second year is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they’ve improved in their first year-plus and what it means for their teams going forward. First, here’s a look at Illinois sophomore Malcolm Hill.

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

  • 2013-14: 4.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38.3% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 77.0% FT, 14.1 MPG, 19.8% usage, 99.4 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 14.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 54.8% FG, 43.8$ 3FG, 71.1% FT, 25.4 MPG, 26.3% usage, 120.1 Offensive Rating

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Nnanna Egwu is the Defensive Linchpin for Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 9th, 2014

At 7-1 with only a road loss to Miami (FL), John Groce has Illinois once again playing well in its non-conference schedule. But one notable difference this year is how improved the Fighting Illini have been on offense. Due to the addition of a couple of offseason transfers, Illinois finds itself with a wealth of combo guards and wings who can score in bunches. While that revamped offense has gotten good publicity thus far, it’s been Illinois’ ongoing successes on the defensive end (91.0 adjusted defensive rating), that has Groce’s squad primed to make a return to the NCAA Tournament. The anchor of that defense, and the only reliable inside presence on the team, is senior big man Nnanna Egwu. Illinois faces #7 Villanova in Madison Square Garden tonight and it will need Egwu to lead the charge in slowing down the Wildcats’ top 15 offense (110.7 adjusted offensive rating).

Nnanna Egwu covers up a lot mistakes on defense for the Illini.

Nnanna Egwu covers for a lot of defensive mistakes for the Illini.

Egwu is the lone active senior this year – Illinois’ other senior, Tracy Abrams, is out for the season with a torn ACL – and he is averaging 7.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in a shade under 30 minutes per contest. The native Nigerian didn’t start playing basketball until the eighth grade, but his quick development led to significant playing time on Groce’s first team in Champaign. The big man still does not have much of a back-to-the-basket game on offense, but he has nice touch and can step out and shoot from the perimeter (5-of-14 from three this season). Whatever his limits are in scoring, what he brings to Groce’s defense supersedes it. Egwu is one of the top rim-protectors in the country, serving as a safety net for guards who get beaten off the dribble. His presence inside allows Illinois’ guards to be more aggressive and gamble for steals, the proof being the Illini’s top 100 steal percentage (10.8%) despite not having the prototypical athletic and long players that dominate this category.

When the Illini play Villanova tonight at Madison Square Garden, Egwu will have his hands full guarding 6’11” center Daniel Ochefu, who converts on 63.6 percent of his attempts near the rim. In addition to Ochefu, he’ll also have to act as the eraser if Wildcats’ guards Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis penetrate the lane to get to the bucket — where both are also shooting over 60 percent. With no capable replacement on the bench, Egwu must avoid fouling to stay on the court, otherwise it’ll be open season on the Illini inside the paint (Egwu to this point has avoided a disqualification on fouls this season). Illinois has relied on its center to provide a foundation to its high-quality defense, and to have any chance of walking out of the Mecca with a Top 10 scalp tonight, it will fall on Egwu to answer that call once again.

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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Big Ten M5: 11.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 26th, 2014

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  1. Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the early clubhouse leader in CollegeBasketballTalk’s player of the year rankings. The Wisconsin senior has showed off a much more complete game this season, as he is leading the Badgers in field goal percentage, points, rebounds, steals and blocks. He’s also at or near the top of all of of these categories in the Big Ten so far as well. We’ll find out more about whether these numbers are sustainable starting today when the Badgers start to play some better competition in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament this week.
  2. Michigan State has looked impressive since their loss to Duke in the Champions Classic, and a big part of that has been their ball movement on offense. On Monday night in their win against Santa Clara, the team notched 22 assists on 29 field goals The ring leader passing the ball was Travis Trice, who had a team-high eight to bring his average to an even 7.0 per game on the season. After setting a program record with 637 helpers last season, they once again have an unselfish team this year with great passers like Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Lourawls Nairn Jr. Without boatloads of NBA-caliber talent at their disposal. having players with high basketball IQ’s on offense will help this team overachieve.
  3. After starting the season averaging 100.3 points per game in their 3-0 start, Illinois struggled on that end of the floor- at least in the first half- in their win Monday night over Brown. The Illini were actually down 35-31 at the halftime break, but went on to shoot a scorching 73.1 percent from the field in scoring 58 points in the second half. Aaron Cosby lead the way with 18 points, and actually pulled off a rare feat by netting seven points in two possessions. Cosby is the team’s leader in threes thus far, as he and fellow transfer Ahmad Starks have been the catalysts for a team that plays much differently on the offensive end as they did last year.
  4. Purdue is off to a 4-1 start, and one of early takeaways from their early play has been just how much of a physical presence 7’2″ freshman center Isaac Haas has been. Haas had a huge impact against Kansas State in a losing effort, scoring 19 points and drawing countless fouls on the Kansas State big men. His sheer size made defending him without fouling almost impossible. Haas followed up Monday’s effort with six points and eight rebounds Tuesday as Purdue soundly defeated Missouri.
  5. Rutgers lost to an 0-4 St. Peter’s team by 18 at home Tuesday night. For those B1G fans who are not that familiar with the program other than last year’s 12-21 record and that they were picked unanimously to finish last in the conference in the preseason, this won’t register much on the shock and awe scale. For some that are more invested in the program, it is another crushing new low point. SBNation’s Dave White has had enough, saying nights like these continue to happen because of continuous failings of the administration in their commitment, or lack there of, to the basketball program. If this team loses to a team without their best player in their own building that hadn’t won a game yet, things could very get pretty dicey once Big Ten play starts.
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