Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 23rd, 2012

This is the third installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten microsite.

John Groce’s Illini look like a revamped group that will compete in the Big Ten.

  1. Indiana (5-0): Indiana solidified its No. 1 ranking by winning the Legends Classic in New York. The Hoosiers were pushed to overtime against Georgetown, but they came out on top thanks to the stellar play of Jordan Hulls. IU certainly didn’t look polished against the Hoyas and there could be some bumps in the road, but the Hoosiers took care of business as expected, therefore they still deserve the top billing in the Big Ten and the country.
  2. Michigan (4-0): Like the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were pushed to the limit by an unranked but very tough Big East team. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are a hardy group that are trying to make their way back into the NCAA Tournament this season. The Wolverines held off Pitt in their first true test of the season by grinding it out and playing great defense. But we still don’t know a lot about this team, and likely won’t learn a lot more when they face Kansas State Friday night. We may have to wait for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against NC State to properly evaluate this team. Until then, we still think that the talented Wolverines are the second best team in the conference.
  3. Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes have been good but not great in the early going, disposing of some lesser foes in just three games so far. They’ll get a great chance to show what they’re made of against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but until then, this team needs to show more that it can separate itself from lesser opponents. Because we have a small sample to evaluate them against the rest of the Big Ten, they are slotted as the third best team in the conference at this point. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions, Maui Style: Illinois 78, Butler 61

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2012

rushedreactions

Some quick thoughts from today’s first Maui Invitational championship game between Illinois and Butler

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Illinois Guards Played Like a Weight Has Been Lifted From Their Shoulders. The old joke goes something like this: Former Illinois head coach Bruce Weber happened upon a Champaign bank robbery a while back, but the suspects got away because he wouldn’t let the guards shoot. Hey, we didn’t make it up — we’re just repeating it. But regardless of the joke’s origin, the fact is that John Groce has unleashed the creativity and talents of his senior guards, Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, as well as sophomore Tracy Abrams, in a way that we haven’t seen from these players previously in their careers. As a result, they’re confident and they’re producing — Paul was the MVP of the tournament, while Richardson was on all the all-tournament team. As Brad Stevens said about Paul in particular after the game — “he’s a big-time pro” — we’re finally getting to see what he can do on a regular basis. He averaged 20/4/3 APG over the three days — nobody was able to really figure him out.
  2. Butler Struggles When It’s the Rotnei Clarke Show. It probably goes without saying, but in three games here in Maui this week, the Bulldogs were at their best when Rotnei Clarke was acting as distributor while also picking his spots to shoot. When he found open teammates tonight, the shots simply weren’t falling — there were several in particular with Kellen Dunham (0-9) and Chase Stigall (0-2) where it was clear that their legs just weren’t under them after three games in three days. Clarke finished with 27 points on 10-19 shooting, but at the under-four timeout, he had accounted for exactly 50% of Butler’s points. None of the other players who had been so effective in the North Carolina game — Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith, Dunham, Stigall — were able to do much tonight. Without their contributions, Butler won’t win many games relying solely on Clarke’s shooting prowess.
  3. Long-Term Prognosis of Both Teams. It says here that Illinois and Butler are both NCAA Tournament caliber teams, but they have obvious weaknesses that will be exploited during conference play. We’re guessing that the Illini have the higher ceiling, though. They’re not going to win the Big Ten without a legitimate big man inside (where have you gone, Meyers Leonard?), but the guard play should be enough to push John Groce’s team into the top of the middle of that league behind the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Butler is on a bit more shaky ground, though. So much of the offense needs to flow through Rotnei Clarke that the ceiling for the Bulldogs will largely depend on the ongoing development of players like Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith and Kellen Dunham. The pieces are there for Butler to make a run at the top three in the Atlantic 10, but the margin for error seems considerably large this year.

Star of the Game. Brandon Paul, Illinois. Paul’s numbers were good — 20/3/4 assts — but it was how he set the tone from the opening tip that impressed tonight. He had an assist on a three and knocked down two jumpers of his own before the first TV timeout to help give the Illini a working lead of 13-5, and Butler never got the margin under five points the rest of the way. If he plays this way all year, he’ll be an All-American to go along with his Maui Invitational MVP trophy.

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Two Key Observations From Illinois’ Win Over USC in Maui

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 20th, 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.

In case you did not stay up until the wee hours on Monday night to watch the Maui Invitational, you probably missed Illinois’ dominating 30-point win over Southern California. The Trojans brought in a slew of talented transfers this season and are expected to be competitive in the Pac-12 and potentially make a run at an NCAA bid. The game was supposed to a close contest between two good teams but John Groce’s Illini took off with the game immediately from the tip-off. The Illini shot 45% from beyond the arc on their way to building a 30-point lead during the first half. Illinois fans are cautiously optimistic about their team because they have been used to late season slumps after a hot start, but last night’s group had a different feel to them. There was an extra hop to the steps of DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul and company that was non-existent during the last two months of the 2011-12 season. Keeping in mind that it is just one game against a team that is not a juggernaut, the following are two key takeaways from last night’s game:

D.J. Richardson and the Illini look like a revamped group so far this season.

  1. Defensive Intensity: When Illinois played three guards (D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams) along with a wing (Myke Henry or Joe Bertrand), they were very quick on defense in disrupting the passing lanes. They lack the depth in the frontcourt and may be exposed in the paint but the guards caused a ruckus by being extremely active and pressing the ball-handlers in the half court sets. The Illini big men – Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey, may not be able to defend the post effectively which means that the opponents can push the ball inside but this strategy will backfire if the Illini guards make it very tough for the guards to make an effective entry pass. The USC forwards — Aaron Fuller and Eric Wise -– were never truly comfortable in the paint because their guards could not settle down. During most of the Trojans’ inbound plays, Egwu jumped up and down in front of the  player who was trying to inbound the ball which forced him to throw the pass to the other end of the court and a reset of their offense all over again. Paul, Bertrand and Abrams were all over the USC guards and forced 16 turnovers including 11 steals. Every Illini fan is expecting the guards to push the tempo offensively but Groce might have convinced them to make a difference on the defense immediately. Read the rest of this entry »
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Some Predictions for Individual Big Ten Awards This Season

Posted by jnowak on November 12th, 2012

With the season getting under way, the Big Ten Microsite writers put their heads together and predicted who will come away with some conference hardware this season. Take a look:

  • Big Ten Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana — A pretty easy choice, all things considered. Zeller is the best player returning to the consensus No.1 team in the country, and a near unanimous selection to be an Associated Press preseason All-American. The sophomore center has it all — good hands, smarts, a nose for the ball around the basket, and runs the floor well. This is his award to lose.
  • All-Big Ten First Team: Cody Zeller, Indiana – see above; Trey Burke, Michigan – the conference’s best point guard who had a breakout season as a freshman and flirted with the NBA; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State – another AP preseason All-American poised to be a star with the departure of Jared Sullinger; Tim Frazier, Penn State – the conference’s most dangerous scorer, but with plenty of pressure on his shoulders; Drew Crawford, Northwestern – Crawford should be the go-to guy in Evanston this season, with the perimeter all to himself to do what he does best.

No surprise here: Indiana’s Cody Zeller is our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

  • All-Big Ten Second Team: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota – a constant double-double threat on the mend from ACL surgery; Aaron Craft, Ohio State – perhaps the best floor general and defensive player in the league; Keith Appling, Michigan State – a true scorer who can find his groove in Michigan State’s fast-paced offense; Brandon Paul, Illinois – the best player on an Illinois team trying to find itself; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa – a big part of the resurgence in Iowa City. (Others considered: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin; Derrick Nix, Michigan State; Terone Johnson, Purdue)
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State – A predictable choice for a guy who has already won the award once and has been on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team each of his first two seasons in Columbus. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 9th, 2012

  1. The preseason top 50 players for the Wooden Award has been announced and nine Big Ten players were included on the list. The full list can be found here but clearly the B1G dominates the list which should come as no surprise because there are five teams ranked in the Top 25 from the league. Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State have two players each on the team, while Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Illinois’ Brandon Paul and Penn State’s Tim Frazier round the up the rest of the nine. Paul and Frazier might not lead their teams to the NCAA Tournament but both of them are expected to stuff the stat sheets and should average at least 15 PPG this season.
  2. Speaking of Indiana, Tom Crean is hoping that the suspensions of Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin will be reduced after the NCAA hears their appeals. Both freshmen were suspended for nine games for accepting benefits from a booster. After losing Derek Elston for a few weeks due to an injury, Crean needs their help in the frontcourt to protect and complement Cody Zeller. The Hoosiers won’t struggle too badly without them but a long suspension will derail their plans to improve by conference season with a full rotation of players. Indiana’s game against North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, for example, will be tough but they have enough talent to overcome the Tar Heels without these two freshmen.
  3. The college hoops season tips off today with Michigan State battling Connecticut at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. This is a big game for Tom Izzo not just professionally but also at a personal level. One of Izzo’s relatives, Michael Izzo, works at the commissary office and will meet the head coach along with his family. Izzo is also happy that the troops overseas will get to see an exciting match-up between two historic programs in college hoops. As for the game itself, Michigan State’s Gary Harris will showcase his talents for the first time on the national stage and the Spartans will look to lock down the Connecticut backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright if they want to pull of an opening win today.
  4. Ohio State is considered a top 10 team in the country mainly due to the talents of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Not only do the Buckeyes have two potential All-Americans on their roster but they also have great depth at the wing position. Thad Matta will wait until tonight’s tipoff to decide who starts at the small forward position for the season opener against Marquette. Sam Thompson and Laquinton Ross are the finalists for that spot and both are great choices due to their gifted athleticism. Ross was highly ranked out of high school and is supposed to have great offensive skills while Thompson is a very tough defender. Lenzelle Smith Jr. will play at the scoring guard position alongside Aaron Craft in the backcourt.
  5. Minnesota’s Tubby Smith has to be glad that the season is finally here after all of the off-court troubles he’s had to deal with over the last couple of months. But on the flip side, he will also be under intense scrutiny to perfrom and the fans will expect him to show some results on the court. He is owed $2 million this season and needs to prove that he is worth such a big paycheck. Trevor Mbakwe is definitely confident that the Gophers will prove their worth on the court and he has a great supporting cast as well. Rodney Williams can get to the basket in several different ways and Andre Hollins will be great on the perimeter. Smith needs to win consistently over the next two months to divert all of the negative attention back to winning actual basketball games and prove that he has control of the program.
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Big Ten M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2012

  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has iterated multiple times during the offseason about the need to push the tempo in Champaign. He wants his guards to increase the pace of the game but limit their turnovers. Illinois is loaded with guards such as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams but what about the big guys? Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu returns after playing only 10 MPG last season. Meyers Leonard is now a key part of the Portland Trailblazers so Egwu will need to do his best to provide that inside presence to Illinois. He does not have the offensive skills yet but he brings a bunch of energy in his minutes and will fit in fairly well with a fast-paced system because he runs the floor very well. The Daily Illini discusses Egwu’s role for the Illini and what the Orange Krush can expect from him in Groce’s offense.
  2. Speaking of forwards, Wisconsin has an excellent trio returning for their senior seasons. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will provide valuable on-court experience for Bo Ryan this season. All three of these players understand the swing offense very well and know the particulars of the Wisconsin system. Berggren shoots the deep ball very well for a big man (38% 3FG) and Bruesewitz is a jack of all trades, especially on defense. Evans averaged 6.8 RPG last season but can score from several positions on the floor. If all of these players are healthy (a big if right now), they will provide a great foundation for Ryan despite a largely unproven backcourt of Ben Brust and George Marshall.
  3. Transitioning from experienced forwards to a freshman version, Michigan’s Mitch McGary is working hard to slim down before the regular season. The top-25 recruit is currently 6’10″ and weighs 262 lbs. but is trying to get leaner and improve his conditioning in preparation for a season that could result in a potential Final Four. McGary is specifically focused on staying near the rim and defending the post which will be extremely important against the other top big men in the league such as Cody Zeller and Trevor Mbakwe. John Beilein should be happy about McGary’s work ethic and his keen understanding of his defensive role for the Wolverines.
  4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier will be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. Every team in the league will focus their defensive sets to send multiple defenders at Frazier but that strategy might not work because of two other wings on the Penn State roster. Guards D.J.Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have improved over the offseason and should be poised to take advantage of any double-teams drawn by Frazier this season. Marshall averaged 10.8 PPG last season while Newbill transferred from Southern Miss after averaging 9.2 PPG as a freshman. Newbill in particular will provide some depth on the perimeter and could match up well against the second- or third-best defenders on opposing teams if he plays alongside Frazier and Marshall.
  5.  Michigan State’s Branden Dawson has been watching a lot of film of some of the great guards that have passed through East Lansing over the years. Dawson is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last March and has used the time off to improve his game outside of the gym by focusing on game film. Tom Izzo’s staff has been showing the sophomore tapes of other legendary Spartans such as Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Dawson has the right mixture of athleticism and size to eventually be as good as any of those names if he can stay healthy. He proved that he was a very cerebral player last season when he assumed the role of a defensive stopper which is very impressive for a freshman to become in a competitive conference.
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Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Illinois Fighting Illini

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 23rd, 2012

The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for all of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Northwestern Wildcats. Check out their full schedule here.

Where we left off: Bruce Weber’s Illini set the expectations very high after winning the first 10 games of the non-conference schedule during the 2011-12 campaign. Illinois handled Maryland comfortably on the road (71-62) and beat a ranked Gonzaga team (#18 at the time), 82-75 in Champaign. But the confidence from those wins quickly deteriorated after the Illini got run over by UNLV in Chicago (64 – 48) and lost to Missouri in the annual Braggin’ Rights game, 78-74. Overall, their 11-2 record during the non-conference season indicated to Illini fans that they might enjoy a successful season before the wheels fell off during the final 14 games of the season where the team sputtered to a miserable 2-12 record. The schedule appears to be tougher this season especially for a team that needs to adjust to a new offensive system under head coach John Groce and deal with the departure of their big man Meyers Leonard to the NBA.

Can Brandon Paul and the Illini win more than eight games in the non-conference season?

Major Tournaments: The timing couldn’t be worse for the Illini to play in arguably the most prestigious preseason tournament, the Maui Invitational. Illini fans envisioned a completely different team for this event when the field was announced over a year ago. First off, Bruce Weber was still expected to be coaching in Champaign. Few expected Meyers Leonard to stick around for a senior season, but he wasn’t viewed as a sure lock for the NBA after just two seasons either. Guard Crandall Head was supposed to play an integral role in his junior year rather than transferring out of the program after just one season. Regardless of the personnel changes on the team, the fans expected Illinois to fly to Maui as one of the top contenders. But the reality is that they might not even be the fourth-best team in the field this year. North Carolina, Marquette, Texas and Butler are most certainly better equipped than the Illini to win the title and the first matchup against USC is not a guaranteed win. If the Illini manage to muscle their way past the Trojans, they will then face the Longhorns as a heavy underdog. This tournament will test Groce’s ability to keep his team together under adversity. If Brandon Paul and company can compete against USC and/or even Texas, it should be considered a very positive early season sign for the Orange Krush and the Illini faithful.

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Big Ten Team Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 22nd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Illinois Fighting Illini. 

Where we left off: The last two months of the 2011-12 season were just an absolute mess for the Illini. After beating Ohio State at home on January 10, Bruce Weber’s team ended the season in a major slump (2-12) to finish with a record of 17-15. Weber clearly had lost complete control of his team and was fired after the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini did not even get invited to play in the NIT amidst the chaos and the coaching search created even more negative press coverage for the program. VCU’s Shaka Smart reportedly rejected the job offer and rumors about Brad Stevens’ interest in the opportunity were squashed immediately. Nonetheless, the Illini hired an excellent young candidate, former Thad Matta assistant John Groce from Ohio University. Groce brings a much-needed positive attitude to the program and hopes to instill some new energy, and more importantly, toughness into the program.

Will the Illini buy into John Groce’s direction in Champaign?

Positives: Bruce Weber recruited quality talent to Champaign over the past three seasons. Guards Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams were all top 100 recruits in their class coming out of high school. Weber did not fully utilize Paul’s athleticism but the junior exhibited his offensive versatility as he averaged a team-leading 14.7 PPG last season. John Groce’s success at Ohio has been driven by an up-tempo, guard-oriented offense and requires a backcourt who can not only shoot the ball but also consistently attack the basket. Paul and Richardson’s experience will be helpful if they can buy into Groce’s system which is not as stringent as Weber’s motion offense that revolved around several set plays. Abrams only averaged 4.3 PPG last season but showed his maturity during the season of turmoil. Illini fans have been waiting for an offense that will let the guards facilitate drives to the hoop and make plays rather than adherence to drawn plays that revolve around the perimeter.

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Big Ten M5: 10.16.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 16th, 2012

  1. Indiana legend and college hoops icon, Bobby Knight, is getting rid of some of his jewelery. Knight is auctioning off his three national championship rings and the Olympic gold medal he received from the LA Olympic Committee for coaching the 1984 men’s national team. Knight won titles at Indiana in 1976, 1981 and 1987. One of the best coaches in the history of the game will have his memorabilia auctioned off by Steiner Sports Memorabilia, with the proceeds of the auction going to support his grandchildren’s education and charities.
  2. How will the Illinois’ senior class be remembered by Illini fans? Per Paul Klee, that question will be answered in March. Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey came to Champaign in 2009 as one of the top 30 recruiting classes in the nation. They were supposed to help Bruce Weber take the Fighting Illini back to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond. But the Illini missed the NCAA Tournament twice since then and got only one win in the other year. Paul averaged 14.7 PPG and 4.7 RPG last season but has the potential to become one of the best players in the conference this season. Even though the trio have the talent, they’ve never been able to put a consistent season together. Most Illini fans would agree with Klee that an NCAA Tournament appearance this season would help cement the senior class’ legacy as a solid foundation for the future.
  3. Mackey Arena hosted a Midnight Madness event for the first time since 2008 this past weekend. Head coach Matt Painter talked about his team’s summer trip to Italy and its benefits before the scrimmage began. Forward Jacob Lawson wowed the crowd by winning the dunk competition, and even though Lawson only averaged 2.9 PPG last season, he will play a pivotal role in Purdue’s frontcourt this year. The Boilers sported a 27.3% offensive rebounding rate and will need Lawson to hold his own in the paint in an offense that will feature guards Terone Johnson (9.2 PPG) and D.J. Byrd (8.9 PPG).
  4. How will Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan fill Mike Bruesewitz’s slot in the rotation during the first few games? According to ESPN‘s Eamonn Brennan, Ryan may try to use a combination of sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky, sophomore guard Traevon Jackson, and freshman wing Sam Dekker. Bruesewitz hurt his leg while diving for a loose ball during a scrimmage last week. Kaminsky is a 6’11″ forward who came off the bench last season and could use some game action before the Big Ten season begins. The son of former Big Ten great Jim Jackson, Traevon Jackson is a 6’2″ combo guard who should earn some playing time after the departure of Jordan Taylor. Ryan has also praised guard Josh Gasser (7.6 PPG) for his improvement during the offseason and will most likely start at the point to begin the non-conference slate.
  5. During this time of the year, the “other” basketball league in the country (i.e. the NBA) is going through preseason practices as well. Former Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics and has been prominent so far in preseason action. Even though he dropped to the 21st pick of the draft due to his history of back problems, he is happy to be learning from one of the all-time greats, Kevin Garnett. Garnett will not log heavy minutes until the end of the season due to his knee injuries and so younger players such as Sullinger will be expected to keep the momentum going during the gruelling 82-game season. The 6’8″ power forward averaged 16 points and eight rebounds during the preseason opener in Turkey and will certainly be a focal point of the Celtics’ bench during the upcoming NBA season.
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Big Ten Summer Check In: Illinois Fighting Illini

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 20th, 2012

Illini Nation awaits the 2012-13 season with mixed feelings. Even though most of the fans are relieved to see Bruce Weber leave after nine seasons, they are not overly excited about his replacement, John Groce. The Orange Krush and the majority of the fans expected (hoped?) Illinois to land a high-profile name such as VCU’s Shaka Smart but the coaching search was met with a couple of rejections before Groce was lured away from Ohio University. Nonetheless, everybody is eager to see how the former Ohio State assistant under Thad Matta will do in Big Ten country as a head coach.

Can John Groce bring Illinois back into the top half of the Big Ten?

Evaluating Last Year: Weber’s last season in Champaign can be described using one word - tiring. Even though top recruit Jereme Richmond left the program early for the NBA in spring 2011, there was still enough talent left on the Illini to finish in the top half of the conference last season. The emergence of Meyers Leonard as a formidable force in the paint (13.6 PPG) along with the return of versatile guard Brandon Paul (14.7 PPG) indicated that Illinois wouldn’t have any trouble on the offensive end. Despite their scoring talent, though, Illinois finished 11th in the conference in terms of offensive efficiency, at only 0.97 points per possession. Weber’s offense was not efficient, especially in the second half of the conference play, which led to 12 losses in the last 14 games. They shot only 29.5% from beyond the arc, but still took 35% of their total shots from deep. Weber lost complete control of the team down the stretch and the loss to Nebraska on the road by 23 points was definitely the lowest point of the season. Players looked dejected and there were numerous signs pointing towards Weber’s exit barring a surprising turnaround. Illinois ended with a 17-15 record after starting the season 15-3, which resulted in the coaching change.

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Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Illinois

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 12th, 2012

It has been a long season for the Fighting Illini basketball fans around the Midwest. Most realistic fans knew that they would have a tough time with a younger team but few expected the talent to come out firing during the non-conference season. Wins against Gonzaga and Maryland showed that Bruce Weber’s team had the talent to compete in the Big Ten and beyond. But it was a red herring for the most part because Weber could not control the team and did not necessarily use the player’s skill-sets in an efficient fashion. Illinois lost ten out of 12 games to finish the season at 17-15 and were not even invited to the NIT. Most other Big Ten teams such as Iowa and Purdue improve towards later part of conference season but it was very obvious that Weber’s time was done in Champaign after road losses to lower tier programs such as Nebraska. The fans couldn’t fathom missing the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years and Bruce Weber was let go. It is a new era in Champaign with John Groce taking charge but let’s look back at what can only be classified as a trying season for Illinois basketball.

Meyers Leonard and the Illini fell significantly short of expectations.

  • In a nutshell: Even during the first five games of the Big Ten season, Bruce Weber’s team did not always win efficiently. They needed overtime to beat Minnesota at home and needed a thunderous block by Meyers Leonard to beat Northwestern on the road. The whole nation turned their eyes onto Brandon Paul after his 43-point performance against Ohio State at home but it is easy to forget that the Buckeyes were still in the game during the final two minutes. When you win, everything is forgotten but Illinois’ offensive problems caught up after the win against Thad Matta’s group. Weber couldn’t figure out how to use consistently use Leonard in his offensive sets and relied too much on the three-point shooting of D.J. Richardson. Leonard did not have a smooth 15-footer so he couldn’t fit into Weber’s jump shot oriented offense most of the time. Weber played Sam Maniscalco during the early games but he couldn’t keep up defensively during the Big Ten due to lack of quickness and injuries. Because of Weber’s inability to make adjustments during the mid-season along with a losing slump led to the demise of Illini season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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