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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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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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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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2015

The opening weekend of Big Ten play resulted in three teams remaining undefeated in conference action, with the trio of Maryland, Purdue and Wisconsin sitting atop the standings. Indiana and Iowa are both 1-0, with games to come tonight to see if they can also keep their unblemished records. Conversely, Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State are all off to shaky 0-2 starts. Even Rutgers notched its first-ever Big Ten win when it held on to beat a cold-shooting Penn State unit on Saturday night. Here’s the rest of the weekend lowdown from an interesting opening slate of games in the wildly unpredictable Big Ten.

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue's home court win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue’s home win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

  • Player of the Weekend: Purdue’s AJ Hammons would have definitely been in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year when I listed my non-conference Big Ten superlatives a week ago, but he’s started more games than he’s come off the bench so he didn’t make the cut. On Saturday afternoon against Michigan, however, the junior center was a substitute for the seventh game in a row and it seems as if he’s getting the hang of it. With Isaac Haas in foul trouble, he played a season-high 31 minutes en route to his second double-double of the year. Aside from the fact that he led or tied for the team-high in rebounds, steals and blocks, one noticeable takeaway from the game was the fact that he seems to have really embraced his new role. He appeared more engaged in terms of talking to his teammates, showing emotion when making a play, and genuinely caring about his team and winning, than probably at any time during his first two seasons at Purdue. He won this weekend’s award because of his statistics, but if he can team with Raphael Davis to give this extremely young team some necessary veteran leadership, Purdue could easily turn things around and make a run at a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Illinois’ Point Guard Conundrum Continues

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 17th, 2014

Remember when the Illini had three guards who could man the offense with no trouble from 2003-05? Luther Head, Deron Williams and Dee Brown could set up the offense without any confusion, move the ball around with confidence, and pull up for a three without any issues if the shot clock was winding down. Yep, that was about 10 years ago. Since the trio left Champaign, though, Illinois has struggled to find a consistent point guard comfortable with both distributing the ball and creating his own shot. Chester Frazier didn’t really have a consistent jumper. Demetri McCamey was versatile on the offense but he couldn’t consistently involve his teammates. Brandon Paul was a combo guard, and while Tracy Abrams commanded respect from his teammates, he just didn’t have enough quickness to utilize his offensive moves and still carry a consistent assist rate. With Abrams now gone, there was a glimmer of hope that incoming transfer Ahmad Starks could be the efficient point guard to finally lead an offense that could launch the program back into the Big Ten elite. But after the first month of the season, the situation appears as bad as the last few seasons in that regard.

Ahmad Starks hasn't been able to exceed Tracy Abrams' performance from last season so far this year.

Ahmad Starks hasn’t been able to exceed Tracy Abrams’ performance from last season so far this year.

Starks’ game has several positives: He is quick to get around screens and has a much better looking three-point shot than Abrams. While a 35 percent mark from three isn’t all that impressive, his average is more a result of poor shot selection than mechanics. He also hasn’t been able to connect with his teammates during the second half of important games. Let’s take the latest loss to Oregon as an example. Even though Illinois assisted on 17 of its successful field goals, the offense looked completely clueless when it mattered. If the ball went inside to the low post, it never came back out. There was no lateral movement. If Starks couldn’t break his defender down, he dumped it over to Malcolm Hill who did the same – scoring only six points. The same goes for Aaron Cosby and Kendrick Nunn. Illini shot a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc but taking 19 shots from there is concerning. There is no point guard who can set up plays that require ball movement and could actually result in a decent-looking shot in the waning minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Addition by Subtraction: Tracy Abrams’ Injury Could Propel Illinois to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 11th, 2014

Watching a senior point guard go down with a season-ending injury before his final year is always painful. Years of experience accumulate into something of a valuable commodity. Senior guards going up against younger hot-shots during conference season is a perennial story to watch year in and year out. IllinoisTracy Abrams could have been that that guard but his absence this season may actually help Illinois settle on a more effective rotation because Abrams’ minutes can be passed onto incoming transfer guards, Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby. While John Groce could rely on Abrams to run the team because he can trust his senior guard after two full seasons in Champaign, his offense should benefit with quicker, potentially more talented, guards such as the incoming transfers. The concept of “addition by subtraction” matters for teams that are on the cusp of making it into the NCAA Tournament with a few minor tweaks to the personnel. Illinois was a bubble team last year and Abrams’ loss combined with the infusion of new talent may just be enough to push them into the top five or six teams in conference.

Tracy Abrams' loss may actually help the Illini this season.  (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ loss may actually help the Illini this season.
(Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Before understanding how Abrams’ loss helps this season, it is crucial to understand the Illini’s key weakness from last season: long-range shooting. They shot 30.4% from the long-range, ranking tenth in the conference. Shooting from beyond the arc is not Abrams’ strength but that didn’t prevent him from hoisting 111 attempts and only making 27% of them. Pulling up from from the top of the key during crucial possessions in the second half was one of the worst traits of his game. He quickly gave up pushing the ball into the paint which resulted in a horrible free-throw rate — the Illini ranked dead last in the league averaging only 30.6% of free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Groce could count on Abrams to be calm during crunch time but his shot selection was questionable at best. Take these negatives out of the equation and add two excellent shooters, Starks and Cosby. Both Starks and Cosby shot 40% from beyond the arc at Oregon State and Seton Hall respectively and they will certainly boost the Illini offense that is desperate for outside shooting.

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Big Ten M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 23rd, 2014

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  1. Expectations for Illinois are reasonably high despite the fact that starting point guard Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a torn ACL. One reason for such optimism has to be the fact that the team should shoot the ball much better with the additions of transfers Aaron Crosby and Ahmad Starks. The two newcomers have both shot over 36 percent from behind the arc in their careers, and the Illini offense should benefit the ability to spread the floor and burn teams from deep. It should also take the onus off of Rayvonte Rice, whose offensive numbers dropped significantly once conference play started last season.
  2. Wisconsin has been picked to finish high both nationally and in the Big Ten largely because of the experience it has coming back to Madison. Several other schools in the league also have a good deal of returning talent, though, and Minnesota is one such team. The Gophers will feature four seniors who should get heavy minutes, including all-Big Ten candidates Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. The senior class has taken their roles as leaders to heart, as they’ve been in constant communication with one another as the opening of the season grows closer. There have been many instances where teams that made a deep NIT run (Minnesota won the tournament last season) came back to progress to the NCAA Tournament the following year. Richard Pitino’s squad may well be the next such example of a team, much like Iowa a year ago, to use its NIT experience as a springboard to a better season.
  3. In looking at Indiana’s roster, guard play and perimeter strength look to be its strengths. Yogi Ferrell is back at point guard and freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson are top 100 wings who should contribute right away. The Hoosiers didn’t exactly feature Noah Vonleh in the post last season and he still ended up getting drafted by Charlotte in the lottery. Now junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea will more than likely step into a starting role on the blocks despite an uneven first two years in Bloomington. Both Mosquera-Perea and Tom Crean realize that now is the time for the Colombia native to show the tools that made him one of the top big men in the Class of 2012.
  4. Maryland guard Melo Trimble has quickly become the talk of the highly-touted freshman class that Mark Turgeon has assembled in College Park for his first B1G campaign. Trimble is getting rave reviews for his defensive abilities, and much of that is due to his work with Director of Basketball Performance coach, Kyle Tarp. Trimble has lost 18 pounds since arriving on campus, leading Turgeon to comment that “he’s further along defensively than I expected.” With Seth Allen gone to Virginia Tech, Trimble will have a much greater initial responsibility than he would have had if Allen had stuck around. The combination of Maryland’s experience and youth make this year’s team an intriguing Big Ten sleeper.
  5. Headliners like Jahill Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Stanley Johnson making CollegeBasketballTalk’s list of top 20 impact freshmen should come as no surprise, but the Big Ten was also well-represented with Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, and Northwestern’s Vic Law all making the cut. A questionable omission would have to be Ohio State guard D’angelo Russell, who may very well lead his team in scoring this season. The three who were honored should all play big minutes from the start though, with Law having a chance to step right into the slot once held by the departed Drew Crawford.
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Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

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