Can Tracy Abrams be the Point Guard John Groce Needs?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 23rd, 2013

Things went well for John Groce in his first year as Illinois’ head coach. The Illini started the season 12-0, won the Maui Invitational for the first time in school history, beat #1 ranked Indiana in thrilling fashion, won an NCAA Tournament game (only their second since 2006), nearly upset #2 seed Miami in the Round of 32, and received commitments from two Top 50 recruits this summer. Groce did an impressive job motivating his team. Consider that the Illini had a 2-7 record in conference play in the beginning of February and closed the regular season 7-4 to make the NCAA tournament. The long term looks good for the Illini too. Groce has secured a top 10 recruiting class and is waiting on an influx of transfers who are scheduled to play next year. But this year, the Illini are expected to take a step back, only returning three players who logged significant minutes from last year’s team. Of these three, junior guard Tracy Abrams, and particularly his ability to play the point more effectively, may be the biggest factor that determines whether the Illini go dancing in consecutive seasons.

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Last year, Abrams shared ball-handling duties with now-graduated Brandon Paul, and was the Illini’s third leading scorer (10.6 PPG). But Abrams’ grind-it-out style isn’t what Groce would prefer to see in his point guard. The Illinois coach wants to play an up-tempo offense with a point guard who can make smart decisions at different speeds. Abrams, who averaged 3.4 assists per game last season, was second on the team in turnover percentage, averaging 19.4 turnovers for every 100 possessions. He also shot poorly from deep last season (27.2 percent), which hinders Groce’s designed system of opening up the floor. However, what Abrams lacks in natural point guard abilities, he makes up in competitiveness and moxie. He was voted MVP by his veteran teammates at the end of his freshman year because of the effort he displayed throughout the season, and he has shown an ability to step up his game in crucial moments. Last season, he scored 27 points in a win against Auburn when the rest of his team struggled, and he hit a three to seal a win at Minnesota in a pivotal conference game. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #7 Illinois in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  1. The way Miami won this game was important. The Hurricanes have received a great deal of national attention due to the fact that their roster had zero NCAA Tournament experience before this year’s event. Miami coasted to an easy win over Pacific in its first game, but as a two-seed, that type of win is expected. Needing a test to prove its NCAA Tournament toughness, the Hurricanes definitely received one from Illinois. The Illini took a 55-54 lead with 1:24 to play and Miami kept its collective cool and was able to come back and grab the victory. On the possession after Illinois took the lead, Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin nailed a ridiculously difficult step back three-pointer at the 1:04 mark to give the Hurricanes a two-point lead. Miami was able to maintain that lead and earn the victory by calmly going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and not allowing Illinois to get anything easy on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Illinois deserves a lot of credit for the way it played. The Illini did not shoot the ball very well all night – just 37.7% from the field and 25.9% from three – but it fought hard all game and pushed Miami to the brink. In his postgame remarks, Illini coach John Groce spoke of how his team has battled hard all season and that they have gotten contributions from everyone all season. That was definitely the case against Miami, as different guys stepped up in different spots to make an impact. On a night where the usually solid D.J. Richardson was just 1-of-11 from the field, senior forward Tyler Griffey stepped up for the Illini with 12 huge points on a 4-of-6 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was a force inside all night, as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing very rugged defense against the Miami frontline. Senior guard Brandon Paul struggled at-times with his shot, but he certainly showcased his ability to take over a game with his performance Sunday night. The Illini might not have been victorious, but their effort and the way they played was certainly admirable.
  3. A blown call definitely had an impact on the game. When Richardson missed a three-point attempt with 43 seconds to play in what was a 57-55 game at the time, it clearly looked like the ball last touched the hand of Miami forward Kenny Kadji before going out-of-bounds. The ball was incorrectly rewarded to Miami, which resulted in guard Durand Scott nailing two clutch free throws to give the Hurricanes a four-point lead. While the Illini were able to trim the lead down to two again with 22 seconds to play, they never again had the chance to tie. There were many other reasons why Miami won and Illinois lost, but this call certainly had an impact on the last 43 seconds of what was a thrilling game.

Star(s) of the Game. Rion Brown and Shane Larkin, Miami. The junior Brown was outstanding for the Hurricanes off the bench. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from deep. In a game where every shot was crucial, it seemed like every one Brown made was of great importance to the outcome of the game. Larkin turned in a normal stellar performance – 17 points and five assists – but the reason he makes this category is due to the ridiculous step back three-pointer he nailed to give his team a lead it would never relinquish with one minute to play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #7 Illinois 57, #10 Colorado 49

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #7 Illinois and #10 Colorado in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Colorado dug itself a hole in the first half. A major reason why the Buffaloes were unable to win this game was because they played terribly in the first half. Colorado should get credit for clawing back into the game – and briefly taking a lead – but it needs to be acknowledged that the first half was owned by Illinois. When Andre Roberson hit a jumper to trim Illinois’ lead to 24-21 at the 7:06 mark of the first half, that was the last time Colorado scored in the opening frame. The Illini went on a 13-0 run to finish the half and went into the half with what at the time seemed like a comfortable 16-point lead. The Buffaloes only shot 34.8% from the field in the first half and committed eight turnovers, which led to 15 points for the Illini.

    In a game defined by huge runs, Illinois ultimately tallied the biggest surge, giving its fans plenty to cheer about. (Getty)

    In a game defined by huge runs, Illinois ultimately tallied the biggest surge, giving its fans plenty to cheer about. (Getty)

  2. This was a game of pretty absurd runs. Illinois went on a 13-0 run to finish the first half. Colorado went on a 23-2 run to begin the second half. Illinois went on an 18-5 run to end the game. Usually it is pretty crazy when a game has one of the aforementioned runs, but this game had three of them and they occurred back-to-back-to-back. Both teams definitely deserve credit for fighting back from trends in the game that were extremely undesirable. Following the game Colorado coach Tad Boyle stated, “We ultimately just did not have enough,” which shows just how taxing the 23-2 run to get back into the game was for the Buffaloes.
  3. Illinois needs to play a lot better if it wants any shot of upsetting Miami on Sunday. The Illini were able to play with the fire and still get by Colorado, but if they want to pull the upset of a very good Miami team Sunday then they need to put forth a much more consistent effort. If Illinois allows Miami to go on a 23-2 run and only manages three field goals in one half, there is a very good chance it will be blown out by the Hurricanes. Guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are Illinois’ most important players and they were just a combined 8-of-26 from the field and committed a combined seven turnovers against Colorado. Miami has very strong guard play, so both Paul and Richardson are going to need shoot better and take better care of the basketball if the Illini want any chance of pulling the stunner.

Star of the Game. Brandon Paul, Illinois. Paul was just 3-of-12 from the field on the afternoon, but his very strong free throw shooting is what clinched the victory for the Illini. Paul finished 9-of-10 from the charity stripe and made 5-of-6 in the last 1:06 of the game. Paul’s strong performance from the line put the game out of reach for Colorado. D.J. Richardson was also considered, as his 11-point performance in the first half was a huge reason why the Illini were able to build a 16-point halftime lead.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Breakdown: NCAA Tournament Round Of 64

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 19th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Under the assumption that a #16 seed won’t make history this year by beating a #1 seed in the round of 64, the Indiana Hoosiers should be able to handle the game against the winner of LIU-Brooklyn and James Madison. Ohio State was rewarded with the #2 seed out west because it won the Big Ten Tournament and should also be able to win its first game against Iona. The Gaels’ Lamont Jones (23.0 PPG) is a dynamic scorer whose impact should be mitigated by Aaron Craft’s superb on-ball defense. Even though the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes are clear favorites in their first game, the other five Big Ten teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin – will have their work cut out for them on Thursday and Friday. The following are some key thoughts around each team’s first match-up in the NCAA Tournament.

  • Michigan vs. South Dakota State: This could be a trendy upset pick because the Jackrabbits’ Nate Wolters has been one of the hidden gems of the college basketball season. Wolters is more than just a scorer because he gets his teammates involved and will force the Wolverines to play effective defense. But let’s not forget that he will be exposed on the defensive end when guarding Trey Burke and as a result won’t be as fresh offensively. The Wolverines will benefit from playing in Auburn Hills where they will have a decent amount of support and it should help them beat the Jackrabbits to move into the next round. After playing teams very physical teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State, John Beilein’s team should be rejuvenated to play a team outside of the Big Ten who won’t necessarily try to slow down the pace of the game. If the Wolverines are allowed to run, they will take care of business comfortably on Friday.
John Beilein's Wolverines may be re-energized in their first match-up against a team from outside of the Big Ten (AnnArbor.com/Lon Horwedel)

John Beilein’s Wolverines may be re-energized in their first match-up against a team from outside of the Big Ten (AnnArbor.com/Lon Horwedel)

  • Michigan State vs. Valparaiso: Like the Wolverines, the Spartans will have a healthy amount of green and white represented in Auburn Hills for their game against the Crusaders. Bryce Drew’s team won’t necessarily wow you with its athleticism but the Crusaders score very well in the half-court. They have two versatile forwards – Ryan Broekhoff and  Kevin Van Vijk – who can spread the floor, but the Spartans have the personnel to lock them down defensively. Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne are versatile enough to defend Valpo on the perimeter and can dominate the boards which will make a big difference in the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Keith Appling can get some of his confidence back because assuming they move onto the Third Round, Tom Izzo will need him to be very effective in the final minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Indiana and Illinois. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Cody Zeller was dominant. The All-American big man picked up where he left off after a sensational performance in Sunday’s victory over Michigan. Once again, Zeller was the go-to guy for the Indiana offense against Illinois, as he finished the afternoon with 24 points and nine rebounds. With the ball in his hands on the low block, the talented sophomore was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the Illini interior for the duration of the game. Zeller’s presence on the defensive end of the court was also quite notable as he anchored a Hoosiers’defense that did not let anything come easy for the Illinois offensive attack. There have been instances this season where Zeller’s production has not matched his level of talent, but if he can continue to put forth performances like he has in his last two games, there will be no ceiling on Indiana’s postseason hopes.
  2. Indiana’s defensive effort in the first half was phenomenal. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted at halftime that he and legendary Indiana radio announcer Don Fischer believed that the first half against Illinois was the best defensive half that the Hoosiers had played all year. The two men had a point as the Hoosiers were just suffocating on that end of the court for the first 20 minutes. The Illini were held to just 25.9% shooting in the first half and had to settle for many difficult looks due to the intense defensive pressure. The Hoosiers also forced Illinois into eight first half turnovers – many of which resulted in great transition opportunities. Illinois guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were a combined 3-of-13 from the field and by containing the Illini’s two best scorers, Indiana was able to open up a 14-point halftime lead. Victor Oladipo rightfully gets most of the credit for Indiana’s strong defensive performances, but the Hoosiers have really made strides as a team in-terms of their defensive effort.
    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

    Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Thoughts From the Big Ten Tournament: Thursday Afternoon Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 14th, 2013

Walker Carey attended the afternoon session (Minnesota vs. Illinois and Penn State vs. Michigan) of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center on Thursday afternoon and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @walkerRcarey

Illinois head coach John Groce talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Minnesota (AP)

Illinois head coach John Groce talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Minnesota. (AP)

  1. Both Illinois and Minnesota are probably far too inconsistent to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Illini and the Golden Gophers have struggled with consistency issues all season and all Thursday’s game proved was that neither team has alleviated those issues. If you recall, both teams started the season red hot — the Illini were once 12-0 and the Gophers were once 15-1 — but after Big Ten play commenced, both squads began to struggle. Both teams finished their conference slates with an 8-10 record. While such a record would usually not raise many eyebrows, Illinois and Minnesota have grabbed a lot of national attention due to some impressive victories and some head-scratching defeats. The Illini scored great victories over Ohio State and Indiana, but they also were defeated at home by a Northwestern team that finished 11th in the conference. Minnesota notched wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana, but Tubby Smith’s squad also suffered setbacks to Northwestern and Nebraska. It is fair to assume that both teams are solidly in the field of 68, but when you have to question what version of both teams will show up, it is also fair to assume that both teams will not be in the tournament for long.
  2. Illinois is going to miss Brandon Paul next season. While the senior guard has had an up-and-down career in Champaign, he once again showed Thursday that he is plenty capable of taking over a game and leading his team to victory. Paul scored 25 of the team’s 51 points and drained an 18-footer to beat the buzzer and give the Illini the 51-49 victory. Paul, whose legacy might be tarnished a bit due to his place on some subpar Illini teams, should be remembered for his ability to take over games like he did Thursday. Paul’s performance against Minnesota was quite memorable, but it was not the most memorable of the season. In Illinois’ December 8 win over currently top-ranked Gonzaga, Paul exploded for 35 points, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from deep. Paul’s talent and play-making ability is something that had been missing from the Illinois program since the days of Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams, and because of that, the Illini are really going to miss him after their season ultimately concludes.  Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Brandon Paul: Certified Gopher Killer

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Throughout his career, Brandon Paul has been touted as an ultra-talented player who struggles with inconsistency. Sometimes he showcases his impressive range and versatility, while other times he seems to disappear from the moment. In Thursday’s opening round Big Ten Tournament game, Paul rose to the moment, and then some. He scored 25 of the Illini’s 51 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in his team’s victory over Minnesota. But he saved his best for last, hitting a 15-footer at the buzzer to get his team a date with Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney on Friday.

Other than Paul, Illinois struggled mightily. Its next three leading scorers  — D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — each had just six points. Paul, a guard, was the second-leading rebounder with five, just one behind Egwu. And while Paul shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-8), the rest of the team was just 2-of-17 from long distance — Tyler Griffey was 0-of-4, Abrams was 0-of-3.

Illinois’ season has taken after Paul’s career, in a way. The Illini have lived and died by the three, which essentially means inevitable inconsistency. On nights when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’ve pulled out impressive wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. However, cold-shooting nights have led to bad games — a 14-point home loss to Northwestern and near losses to Gardner-Webb and Auburn. The good wins have offset the bad ones, and they’re why the Illini will surely be dancing next weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 4th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. March is upon us and as teams wind down their regular season over the next week, they will also honor the senior classes during the last home game. Illinois seniors – D.J.Richardson, Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin, Tyler Griffey – did not want to lose their last home to Nebraska, a team that they couldn’t afford to lose on Saturday. Fortunately for them, Tracy Abrams chipped in 16 points to lead the Illini to a 72-65 win over the Cornhuskers and the seniors were very emotional in Champaign. “I was under my shirt crying,’’ said guard Brandon Paul, who evidently shed a few tears after the grind-it-out victory. The Illini finish the regular season with two road games against Iowa and Ohio State; they could use one more win to lock in a good seed for the NCAA tournament.
  2. While the Illini seniors won their last home, the Badgers’ senior class were upset by the Boilermakers on Sunday. Matt Painter’s team stunned the Badgers by beating them 69-56 and dominated for most of the second half at the Kohl Center. Mike Breuesewitz, Ryan Evans, and Jared Bergren shot a combined 9-24 from the field in a loss that will be booked under the “bad” category by the selection committee on Selection Sunday. “They were just hitting tough shots. This game kind of reminded me of the Cornell game my freshman year,” Evans said, referring to the 2010 NCAA tournament game in which the Big Red shot 61.1 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from three in an 87-69 defeat of the Badgers.
  3. Senior guard Julian Welch (3.3 PPG and 1.6 APG) of the Gophers had a great performance on Saturday against Penn State by scoring 10 points and dishing out seven assists. Welch hasn’t seen much playing time during the season so far because Tubby Smith has used a tight rotation, but this performance could catapult his minutes over the next few weeks as they get ready for the postseason. “It’s just been hard for him to get into the lineup,” Smith said. “It’s always tough when you’re a senior and a junior college transfer and the expectations were to play a lot more. But he showed a lot of character in stepping up today. I’ve got a lot more confidence in him now.”
  4. Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have had some issues offensively over the past two weeks and the first half against Indiana over the weekend was no different because they only scored 14 points. The Hoosiers led 26-14 at the halftime and pulled away to win 73-60 at home as they inch towards a Big Ten title. “I wouldn’t call it a freeze-up,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “It was a really good defensive effort by a good defensive team.” The Hawkeyes can’t afford to fall behind in the first half on Tuesday against the Illini because they could really use that game to make a case for the Selection Committe that they deserve a bid to the NCAA tournament.
  5. Speaking of the Hoosiers, freshman Yogi Ferrell scored a career-high 19 points and dished out five assists against the Hawkeyes. Senior guard Jordan Hulls has struggled against Iowa, shooting 0-17 during the two games this season, but Ferrell had a huge offensive game. After the game, head coach Tom Crean said,  “Tonight he went to the rim and didn’t try to get the contact. In the Minnesota game, he tried to get the contact, and he didn’t get either. Tonight he really focused on making the basket, and he did a much better job with that.” Ferrell hasn’t carried the offensive load this season but having a game like this one should help his confidence as the Hoosiers get ready to make a run at the Final Four and potential the national title.
Share this story

D.J.Richardson Has Been The Key To Illinois’ Turnaround

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 18th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

About a month ago, Illinois was reeling in the Big Ten because they were upset by Northwestern in Champaign. The 68-54 loss came at the worst time after they were hammered by the Badgers in Madison four day earlier by 23 points. The loss to Purdue to kick off the Big Ten season could have been put aside as an aberration, but the loss to the Wildcats proved that the Illini would have to earn every one of their wins in the Big Ten. But a month later, optimism may be back again in Champaign as they returned the favor to the Wildcats in Evanston with a 62-41 route last night. John Groce‘s team hasn’t really changed their offensive philosophy during the last month – they still depend on the deep shot for most of their offense but senior D.J. Richardson has turned it up over the past four weeks, regardless of the outcome of the game. He has averaged 17.5 PPG and 4 RPG over the last eight games and has clearly asserted himself as the leader of the team during the tough stretch.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois' turnaround over the past few weeks.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois’ turnaround over the past few weeks.

Fellow senior guard Brandon Paul is still the best scoring option but Richardson is their best shooter from beyond the arc and has been their best defender on the perimeter. During the 1-4 start in conference play, the Illini went cold from the long range and appeared clueless on defense. Something had to change and it started with defense as Richardson led the charge. The same Wildcats team that shot 8-15 (53% 3FG) from beyond the arc in Champaign couldn’t find the rim last night as they shot just 5-27 (18% 3FG) from deep. Richardson’s efforts were not fruitful immediately because they lost three more games to Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but the perseverance paid off as he scored 23 points against Indiana and the Illini finally cracked through in the Big Ten against a top team to save their season. Tyler Griffey‘s last second layup has been well publicized but without Richardson’s intensity, the game wouldn’t have been tied at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on January 25th, 2013

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

While this weekend’s slate of games doesn’t quite match last weekend’s, there are several conference match-ups that are vitally important in the Big Ten, ACC, and Mountain West. The theme of the weekend is “must win”. The action should be great, so don’t sleep on these games. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#5 Louisville at Georgetown – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Louisville is trying to avoid a three-game losing streak, as they head on the road to Georgetown. Another loss by the Cardinals and Rick Pitino may have to do some reevaluating or reshuffling. For Georgetown, a fourth loss in the Big East this early would certainly put them on the verge of irrelevance. This game is the first of three straight home games for the Hoyas before heading on the road to Rutgers. If they can string together some wins prior to their match-up against Marquette next month, the Hoyas can keep themselves in the thick of the Big East race. In Louisville’s two losses to Syracuse and Villanova, they have struggled against the length of both teams. They simply could not get good shots over the taller players from the Syracuse and Nova. They shot 46.6% eFG and 44.8% eFG against those two teams. Georgetown is another long team. In order for Louisville to avoid a three-game skid, they must figure out a way to hit shots. Creating turnovers without capitalizing on them will not get it done on the road. The Hoyas on the other hand still need to protect the ball and play at their pace. If they are turning the ball over, which they have been doing in conference play, and the pace speeds up, it will be a big problem for John Thompson III‘s squad.

    Can Russ Smith Get Louisville Back On Track? (Credit: Getty Images)

#10 Minnesota at Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on BTN (****)

  • Minnesota has lost three straight games while Wisconsin has lost two straight. Because the Big Ten is so tough this year, it’s too early to say that either team would be out of the race with another loss. However, it will make things much more difficult. The Gophers are struggling on defense in conference play and when they get aggressive, they are fouling. They are also turning the ball over at a rate of 24%. This isn’t the same team we saw in non-conference play. They have put themselves in a must win situation very early in Big Ten play. Similarly, Wisconsin is struggling after their big win against Indiana. They need to continue to play at their pace. If Minnesota can speed this game up with its great athletes, Wisconsin will have a tough time competing. Play close attention to Jared Berggren on the glass. He has to have a monster rebounding game in order for the Badgers to win. If Wisconsin can find a way to get to the line, they can make it four losses in a row for the Gophers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

A Closer Look At Illinois’ Issues During The Losing Streak

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 22nd, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

After a surprising 13-1 start to the season, Illinois has been in a funk over the last two weeks. Losing at Purdue to tip off the Big Ten season could be written off as an aberration because it was the first road game of the conference season but their recent three-game losing skid has raised several questions about the team’s future in the near term, specifically as to their quest for an NCAA Tournament bid. The main reason behind their hot start was their deadly long-range shooting but the good old saying, “You live by the three and you die by the three,” has certainly been true in the Illini’s recent losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. During those three games, Illinois as a team has shot just 8-of-58 (14% 3FG) from beyond the arc! It is no secret that they lack a true big man who could hold his own in the low post, and therefore the team has no choice but to depend on perimeter shooting in its offensive sets. But a closer look into these three losses reveals that there are two other aspects of their game that have hurt them in addition to their shooting woes, but the good news is that these areas can certainly be improved to get out of the slump.

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Perimeter defense: Illini guards Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Joseph Bertrand may have gone cold from beyond the arc recently, but they also need to do a better job of defending the three-point shot on the other end of the court. Their opponents have knocked down 51% (27-of-53) of their attempts from long range over the last three games. If you can’t find your jumper, the least you can do is to step up your defense and make the opposition earn its points. Bill Carmody’s Wildcats had a horrible game offensively against Iowa, but their wings drained five three-pointers in the first half in Champaign to build a 15-point lead which forced the Illini to play catch-up for the last 30 minutes of the game. Groce’s guards have also played poor transition defense and have given up open shots to opposing guards who prefer to drive rather than shoot, such as Minnesota’s Joe Coleman. Coleman torched the Illini by scoring 29 points from all over the floor – he shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and picked up three easy baskets in transition following a missed three-pointer by the Illini — and it was obvious that Paul or Richardson were more frustrated about their shooting slump than getting back on defense. The lackadaisical defensive effort by these players can clearly be attributed to their offensive struggles. When they can’t find their offensive rhythm, they often run back down the court without picking up their assigned man. The lack of good perimeter defense exacerbates these offensive woes because once they fall behind in the game, they have no choice but to rely on the trey even more to cut into the lead. Defensive issues can easily be corrected considering the team’s depth at the guard position. With Tracy Abrams, Paul, Richardson, and Bertrand at his disposal, Groce has four guards who can be part of an effective rotation. Even though 6’7″ wing Mike Henry has struggled with his defensive rotations, he still has the athleticism to become effective on the defensive end. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

College Basketball By The Tweets: Will Privette, Dunk(s) of the Year, and Those Baylor Unis

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 16th, 2013

bythetweets

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

What were arguably the two most memorable incidents to go down in college basketball the last seven days? On the court, it was certainly the game’s final four undefeated teams falling one by one over a 96-hour span. Off the court, err, on the sidelines, it was Robert Montgomery Knight revealing his age and inability to make out the difference between the shot clock and game clock during the final moments of Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt. The most underappreciated handle on all of Twitter encapsulated it beautifully.

C.J. Leslie and his friend Will Privette

To call it heartwarming would be an understatement, but whatever it is, C.J. Leslie’s Saturday afternoon was one he will never forget. First he dropped a game high 25 points as the Wolfpack upset then top-ranked Duke, which led to this photo that should be sold as a 24″ x 48″ poster at the school’s bookstore.

But even after the final horn sounded, Leslie was still being attentive on the court, ushering a senior student in a wheelchair to safety amongst the sea of red that was stomping all over the PNC Arena court.

Yes, naturally, Will Privette’s act has gone viral. The kid is one of the most sought after interviews in sports media right now, and it’s doing wonders to his social media clout.

Brandon Paul, Anthony Bennett, Jamaal Franklin. Who ya got?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story