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

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 16th, 2013


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?

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.07.12

Posted by bmulvihill on January 7th, 2013


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

There are several very meaningful conference games this week, which is great to see so early in the conference season. There’s lots of great games and even more to cover, so let’s not waste any time and get right to the breakdowns.

#18 Notre Dame at #10 Cincinnati – 6:30 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

Things Are Looking Good for Mike Brey, Who Just Might Win Another Coach of the Year Awayrd (AP Photo)

Can Mike Brey and the Irish buck history and win their first true road game? (AP Photo)

  • Notre Dame has played 14 games so far and this will be their first true road test of the season. Mike Brey is known for setting his schedule this way and it has not benefited the Irish much over the years. The Irish have lost their first true road game of the season for three straight seasons, and if you examine Notre Dame’s schedule in the Brey era, you will see that losing the first road game of the season is fairly typical. The Irish run up against a Cincinnati team that has lost two of its past three games, including back-to-back home games. The Bearcats can blame most of their recent troubles on poor shooting. They are under 50% eFG for the past five games. They are also struggling to get to the line, which is an indication that they are taking a lot of outside shots. Look to see if Cincy takes the ball to the hoop more to manufacture some points at the free throw line. Also, watch to see if Notre Dame can hit their shots on the road as well as they have at home. It’s doubtful, particularly against tough field goal defense like Cincinnati. The Bearcats should win in a close one.

#23 Pittsburgh at #14 Georgetown – 9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPNU (***)

  • Many questioned how good the Panthers really were given their weak schedule, but with two consecutive losses, it’s looking more and more like the critics were correct. Pitt heads to Georgetown for a tough Big East road game in which a loss will drop them to 0-3 in the conference. Georgetown is coming off a tough road loss to Marquette where offensive rebounding and free throws killed them, much like it did in the Indiana game earlier this season. If Pittsburgh is to win this game, they need to control the offensive glass. They rank sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, but watch to see if the length of the Hoyas makes rebounding more difficult for Pitt. Additionally, the Panthers present relatively zero threat from three-point land. They rely on twos heavily and almost exclusively. With the Hoyas ranking 13th in the nation in two-point field goal defense, you can expect Jamie Dixon’s club to have a tough time scoring. It says here that the Hoyas should prevail at home.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on January 4th, 2013


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

The first weekend in 2013 dives head first into conference season. There are some key match-ups within the Big Ten and Big 12 that will set the tone early for who to watch over the next two months. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#11 Ohio State at #13 Illinois – 2:15 PM EST, Saturday on BTN (****)

While Craft brings experience and relentless defense, losing Sullinger and Buford, and the outsized production loads they accounted for, will be an enormous hurdle for the transitioning Buckeyes (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire).

Aaron Craft needs to lock down the perimeter against Illinois (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire).

  • It seems odd to say that these two top 15 teams are in need of a win, but that appears to be the case in this particular match-up. Ohio State is 0-2 in its two big games against Duke and Kansas, leaving the Buckeyes without a marquee victory thus far, while Illinois has lost two of its last three games after starting 12-0. Illinois’ shooting has been quite poor over the last three games: star guard Brandon Paul has gone 5-of-18, 3-of-12, and 4-of-10 in that span. Alongside D.J. Richardson, the Illini guards will face a tough defensive test from OSU guards Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Shannon Scott. Paul is always capable of a breakout game, but keep a close eye on his shooting as Illinois typically goes the way he goes. In their two losses this season to Duke and Kansas, the Buckeyes have faced dominant post players. Illinois does not have that asset per se, so that bodes well for the Buckeyes, even in Champaign. Big forward Tyler Griffey is Illinois’ best inside option, but he could have his hands full on defense if he is matched-up against DeShaun Thomas. Craft and the Buckeye perimeter defense is the key to this game and it doesn’t appear that the Illinois defense is strong enough to keep Thomas from scoring. While it will be a raucous home crowd for the Illini, I think OSU pulls off the win.

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Big Ten M5: 01.04.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on January 4th, 2013


  1. Without a doubt, the biggest upset of the early Big Ten season was when scuffling Purdue rose to the occasion and knocked off Illinois in West Lafayette this week. As NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster points out, the Boilermakers were able to do so by controlling Brandon Paul — with ball-screen defense, switching and the individual defense of Terone Johnson, who probably turned in the best all-around performance of his career. Illinois goes as Paul goes, but the nearly-3o-minute stretch of play during the game during which Purdue held Paul scoreless was certainly the difference-maker in this one. Will other teams in the conference be able to duplicate such an effort?
  2. Iowa put up a good fight against Indiana in its conference opener earlier this week, and it was essentially all without a contribution from Devyn Marble. The junior guard missed 13 of the 14 shots he took in the game — a four-point loss for the Hawkeyes — but Scott Dochterman says it hasn’t affected Marble’s confidence moving forward. “It was frustrating, but I’m not going to let it affect my game or depict what I’m going to do next,” he said. “On the final play, as you saw, I kept shooting.” Granted, Marble has been more up than down this season, turning in a 30-point effort against Northern Iowa and a 27-point game against South Carolina State. Considering what lies ahead this season, he and the Hawkeyes will need all the confidence they can muster.
  3. We know the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country this season (see: previously-embarrassing Purdue knocking off previously-unbeaten Illinois this week), but what will it take to win the league? In previous years, the Big Ten regular season champion has finished with anywhere from two to five losses (Ohio State won it two years ago with two losses, while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all tied for first last year each with five losses). USA Today‘s Eric Prisbell and Nicole Auerbach agree that five losses sounds about right for a conference champion again this season, and any team that emerges from the Big Ten with three losses is a certain national title contender. What do you think? How many losses can Big Ten teams afford to have and still have a shot at the conference championship?
  4. Minnesota has just one loss this season, is ranked in the top 10, has a slew of signature victories already — including a rare win against Michigan State to open the Big Ten slate — but could the Gophers still be flying under the radar? The Star Tribune‘s Amelia Rayno reports that some national pundits (namely Jay Bilas of ESPN) believe Minnesota is still underrated. “I think the Gophers have plenty more to prove before they can be introduced to that level of respect, but right now, they’re doing all the right things,” Rayno writes in response. “There’s no need to talk about the Gophers being underrated right now. Perhaps they were at the beginning of the year, but now, they’re gaining more respect week after week.” What do you think?
  5. Quick: Who is Indiana’s most valuable player? The easy answer, of course, is preseason National Player of the Year sophomore center Cody Zeller. But midway through the season, could another candidate have emerged for the Hoosiers, who remain that same title contender? ESPN‘s Andy Katz points to Victor Oladipo as somewhat of a surprise — surely, we’ve known he was important to the Hoosiers, but perhaps not this important — and calls Oladipo a “game-changer” who makes winning plays. It’s been perplexing for much of Zeller’s career that he hardly ever seems to be the go-to guy down the stretch, which is precisely a trait that Oladipo possesses.
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All-Big Ten Team From the Non-Conference Season

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 27th, 2012

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.

We haven’t had a great slate of games over the last couple of weeks because of final exams and the holidays but the break this week gives us a chance to evaluate the Big Ten teams as the non-conference season comes to an end. The Big Ten Microsite has already looked at the top coaches over the first month of hoops and graded each team’s performance when compared to their preseason expectations. Today, we take a look at the All-Big Ten team after the first 12 games of the season.

Trey Burke is one of the main reasons why the Wolverines are off to a 12-0 start. (AP Photo)

Trey Burke is one of the main reasons why the Wolverines are off to a 12-0 start. (AP Photo)

  • Trey Burke (17.4 PPG, 7.1 APG): Burke made several adjustments to his game during the offseason and it has paid off during the Wolverines’ 12-0 start. The sophomore point guard has better offensive talent around him compared with last season as freshmen Glenn Robinson III (11.4 PPG) and Nik Stauskas (13.4 PPG) are playing a hugely significant role in John Beilein’s offensive sets. Rather than carrying the bulk of the offensive load, he has become a true facilitator and is playing the role of a true point guard this season. He has averaged 7.1 APG so far this season, a big increase from his 4.6 APG average last year. If all the assists have not been impressive enough, he has also managed to limit his turnovers to only two per game, a decrease of about a miscue per game last year. Involving scorers like Robinson, Stauskas, and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the offense is not an easy task, but Burke has quickly developed a knack in understanding when to become a facilitator and when to take over the game.
  • Cody Zeller (16.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG): Zeller was a unanimous selection for the preseason All-America team and he hasn’t disappointed by leading the Hoosiers to an 11-1 record. His statistics are not necessarily outstanding on their face but he is the foundation of Tom Crean’s offense — just because he doesn’t score 20 PPG does not mean his impact on the game is minimal. Opposing coaches still design their defensive schemes around the sophomore forward and always have the weak side defender looking to help when Zeller makes a move in the paint. Because of Zeller’s presence in the paint, the Hoosiers’ three-point shooting has been very impressive, particularly from guards Will Sheehey (36% 3FG) and Jordan Hulls (53% 3FG). It is crucial for the Hoosiers to understand their specific roles in the offense because of their deep roster and Zeller sets a great example by being very selective with his shots (62.6% eFG). The Hoosiers usually play a lineup with Zeller along with four guards and wings and he has been very effective on the boards by improving his rebounding average from 6.6 RPG last season to 8.1 RPG this year. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.24.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 24th, 2012


  1. Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas had a tough second half against Kansas on Saturday. The junior forward shot just 4-of-16 from the field and ended up with only 16 points as he was smothered by the Jayhawks’ Travis Releford coming off screens. Thomas said afterward, “they just played hard,” when asked about his frustrating game. Thomas cannot afford to have off nights during the Big Ten season if the Buckeyes expect to contend for a conference title. Even though Bill Self’s defensive schemes were designed well to defend Thomas, the junior should have been more patient and adjusted his game when his jumpers were not falling.
  2. Despite Illinois’ first loss to Missouri (83-72) on Saturday night, the senior guards – Brandon Paul and D.J.Richardson – are very happy with their new offensive system under head coach John Groce. Both players understand that they have the green light to shoot and believe Groce’s uptempo system has given them more confidence in their game. Even though Groce encourages guards to shoot unlike his predecessor, Bruce Weber, Paul still needs to be selective with his shot selection and engage his teammates throughout the game, as he dished out five assists against Missouri. Richardson’s stated goal during the offseason was to become the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten and assume the challenge of guarding the best wing from the opposing team. Even though Missouri’s Phil Pressey had 11 assists during the game, he was held to just 3-of-19 shooting from the field as Richardson did an admirable job defending him for most of the night.
  3. Michigan’s Trey Burke has averaged 17.4 PPG and is shooting 51.9% from the field so far this season. Even though Burke has been more of a facilitator as exhibited by his 7.1 APG, he is still one of the best closers in the game. According to ESPN.com, in fact, he is the second toughest player in college hoops to defend after Louisville’s Russ Smith. Burke has dished out 51 assists over the last seven games while turning the ball over only seven times. That is an incredible assist to turnover ratio for the sophomore! Per Seth Greenberg, Burke is one of the best in the game in bringing up the ball at “warp speed” in transition but can “stop on a dime” and change direction making it very tough for defenders to keep him out of the lane.
  4. Tom Izzo and Michigan State have not lost a non-conference game at home since 2010 to Texas. The Longhorns returned to East Lansing on Saturday, but Derrick Nix made sure that this year’s outcome would be different, as the Spartans won 67-56. Nix’s presence in the post proved to be very important because the Spartans shot just 2-of-11 from beyond the arc. The senior forward was impressive as he played 32 minutes and scored 25 points while pulling down 11 boards against the big UT front line. Izzo has insisted that Nix’s post game will be important despite the team’s depth at the guard position and it paid off against the surging Longhorns, who had entered the game coming off an upset win over North Carolina in Austin.
  5. Indiana freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell missed the second consecutive game on Friday against Florida Atlantic. According to head coach Tom Crean, Hollowell is “dealing with a private matter that is in no way related to academic, behavior or disciplinary issues,” as Hollowell sat on the bench in his sweats for that game. In limited action, he has averaged 5.7 PPG and 3.0 RPG so far this season. Crean did not miss him, though, as the Hoosiers thumped Florida Atlantic 88-52 in Bloomington. Their next game against Jacksonville should not be much of a challenge either, but Hollowell’s services may be needed for their home opener at Iowa on December 31.
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 21st, 2012


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

A top ten battle with a bit of recent history leads a solid slate of games this weekend. We are down to the last few non-conference games before we go full tilt into the conference season starting in the new year. It is going to be interesting to see who starts to separate from the pack as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#8 Kansas at #7 Ohio State 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Kansas' Jeff Withey Builds A Case For Most Improved Player. (AP)

How will Ohio State deal with Jeff Withey? (AP)

  • Kansas beat Ohio State twice last season.  Once in the regular season in Lawrence and once in the Final Four. Both teams are without their main contributors from last season in Jared Sullinger for OSU and Thomas Robinson for KU. The key for Kansas in both wins was field goal defense. They held OSU to under 40% shooting in both outings. The Jayhawks come into this game with another solid defense led by center Jeff Withey. Withey provides an inside presence that the Buckeyes will need to game plan around. They had trouble with Duke\’s Mason Plumlee in last month\’s loss to the Blue Devils. Plumlee put up 21 points and 17 rebounds against a Buckeye team that is a bit thin on the inside. While Withey\’s offensive skills may not be as refined as Plumlee\’s, he is capable of putting up 20+ points and will certainly be a major factor on defense. Additionally, pay close attention to the KU guards. Travis Releford, Ben McClemore, and Elijah Johnson are big guards. Look to see if they can take advantage of their size.
  • Ohio State has only lost two non-conference home games since Thad Matta got to Columbus in 2005. They lost in 2008 to North Carolina and in 2009 to West Virginia. While OSU is struggling a bit to find a legit second and third scoring threat, it’s hard to argue against a record like that at home. I learned that when Notre Dame beat Kentucky earlier this season. Still though, DeShaun Thomas is going to need help on the offensive end if Thad Matta and company are to keep that home record intact. Watch Aaron Craft, as he will be the X factor for the Buckeyes. He is averaging just under 10 points a game thus far but is capable of more. Watch the match-up between Craft and Johnson for Kansas. Johnson is turning the ball over frequently (25%) and Craft is one of the best ball thieves in the business. If he can create turnover and get the Buckeyes out on the run, OSU will be in good shape.
  • It’s tough to argue against Ohio State’s home record and they are still a very talented team, but I think Withey and the big guards make the difference in this contest. Look for Withey to shut down any second chance opportunities and defend the hoop against a slashing Thomas. Plus Kansas has this to inspire them.

More Great Action

#14 Missouri vs. #10 Illinois  6:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Illinois’ win at Gonzaga may be the best win of the year thus far, along side Butler’s OT victory against Indiana. As it turns out, Illinois beat Butler as well, so it’s time to take John Groce’s team seriously. The guard match-ups should be excellent in this game. The keys for Missouri will be creating turnovers and getting offensive rebounds. The Tigers aren’t turning teams over like they have in the past but the addition of Alex Oriakhi has helped the rebounding situation tremendously. Mizzou ranks 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tigers will still have to contain Illinois’ Brandon Paul, however. If he gets loose like he did against Gonzaga, it will be another nice win for the Illini.

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Who Won the Week? Illinois, DePaul and Fans Everywhere…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 14th, 2012


Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: The Fans

Oregon Pit Crew student fans support Arsalan Kazemi on the night of his debut as a Duck. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Fans, this horrible week is over. You’ve been freed, just like Arsalan Kazemi. (Also, can we please ignore the fact that a UO student misspelled “anchor”? I got my degree from there, and so did this photographer, and neither of us seemed to have any issues with that word.) (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Let’s face it – this finals week was about the worst thing on record. Save for an upset win over Wichita State by Tennessee, which magically scored more than 40 points to shockingly hand the Shockers their first loss, the week was bereft of interesting match-ups. But the good news is, it’s over. (I’ve got a little bit of bad news though: Winter break’s not much better in terms of captivating contests.) Let’s celebrate that and move on with our lives.

(Related winners: None. Related losers: Anyone who had to sit through games last week.)

LOSER: Halil Kanacevic

The 6’8” forward for St. Joseph’s thought it would be a good idea to show support for his Hawks by flipping the double bird to Villanova fans during a Big 5 game after making his only field goal of the night, a three-pointer to give St. Joe’s a 50-47 lead in the second half. Instead, Kanacevic got popped with a technical foul for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct. Late in the game, he then proceeded to miss two clutch free throws with a minute to go that would have stretched the Hawks’ one-point lead. Instead, the Wildcats came back for a 65-61 home win that helped right their ship an embarrassing 18-point defeat to Columbia and Big 5 losses to La Salle and Temple. For his trouble, Kanacevic got suspended for two games as well.

(Related winners: Villanova; Temple, the likely Big 5 favorite. Related losers: St. Joseph’s; Langston Gallaway, the Hawks guard whose six three-pointers and 22 points were lost in the shuffle.)

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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