Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning Five: 05.06.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 6th, 2013


  1. The NCAA approved legislation on Friday that will allow the first official practices to start two weeks earlier next fall, essentially meaning that we might see Midnight Madness events tipping off in late September rather than the usual mid-October commencement date. The rule allows for 30 days of team practices over a 42-day window, backing up from the date of the first regular season games of the season (next year: November 8). While we’re fully in support of more preseason practice time so that teams have sufficient opportunity to field a good product during the marquee early events, we’re not sold on the idea of having a bunch of Midnight Madnesses while college football is still getting under way, the NFL is only three weeks into its season and the MLB playoffs haven’t even begun yet. It’s not the worst thing in the world if college basketball fans are getting excited about Big Blue Madness, Late Night With Roy, and the rest, for a sliver of a crowded September sports schedule, but if we had been the NCAA, we may have written a clause into the draft that allows for the earlier practice time while mandating that public events cannot go off until the usual mid-October date. 
  2. This article from the LA Times‘ Bill Plaschke isn’t a college basketball piece, per se, but it does start and end with examples relating to the sport. The topic is the difficulty of head coaching positions in the Los Angeles sports scene, and UCLA men’s basketball in particular is featured prominently. He cites the fact that there’s already a Facebook page dedicated to firing new Bruins’ head coach Steve Alford, and of course he makes time to mention former head coach Ben Howland’s three Final Fours during his decade in Westwood. The restlessness that appears to infect the LA sports and entertainment scene is probably not much different than anywhere else — perhaps a bit more hyperactive there because of the importance of style over substance — but Plaschke is absolutely correct when he notes that a certain former head coach went a phenomenal 16 seasons before “finally” winning the first of his 10 national championships. No doubt if John Wooden had coached in today’s era of immediate expectations and returns, he may not have ever gotten the chance to make his unprecedented run.
  3. We’ll have more on this topic later today, but news from USA Today‘s Eric Prisbell over the weekend suggests that the former AAU coach of former Kansas star Ben McLemore took money and benefits from an agent named Rodney Blackstock in an effort to “deliver” the possible overall top draft pick to him. The report revealed three regular season KU games where Blackstock received a complimentary guest pass from McLemore, but as is so often true in these situations, it’s nearly impossible to prove the player or the school knew any such impropriety as alleged by the coach actually occurred. As Gary Parrish at points out, the NCAA could use Bylaw to declare McLemore ineligible based on what it already knows, but to do so flies in the face of what it just concluded in the Lance Thomas/Duke situation, and begs the tried-and-true question of whether schools should be held responsible for things it simply cannot control in this messed-up system that exists well outside the reach of the NCAA. Gregg Doyel makes a similar argument in this piece, taking the tack that whether we’re talking about the possible ineligibility of Marcus Camby, Derrick Rose or McLemore, the head coach shouldn’t be held responsible unless, you know, he actually had knowledge of, or should have had knowledge of, the events that caused the ineligibility in the first place. Makes sense, right?
  4. There was one notable transfer over the weekend, as Western Michigan’s Darius Paul, the MAC Freshman of the Year last season after averaging 10/6 for the Broncos, tweeted that he would transfer to Illinois after attending older brother Brandon’s postseason awards banquet. He had several high-major offers on the table, but it is becoming clear that John Groce’s fun playing style feeds into a recruiting strategy focused on bringing in a healthy mix of talented freshmen and successful mid-major transfers such as Paul, Illinois State’s Jon Ekey, Seton Hall’s Aaron Cosby, and several others. Paul will sit out next season per NCAA rules but will be ready to contribute in the post for the Illini beginning in 2014-15.
  5. Rick Pitino has had a pretty good spring, but he didn’t add Kentucky Derby champion to his list of 2013 accomplishments. The horse in which Pitino owns a five percent stake, Goldencents, had some trouble getting early traction in the Saturday evening race at Churchill Downs before easing up down the stretch to finish in 17th place. Still, we’re certain that simply having quite literally a horse in the race was good enough for Pitino in this event, as the 60-year old has spent his entire life chasing basketball rather than race track glory.‘s Pete Thamel interviewed Pitino in this piece that published Friday, and it’s abundantly clear that the two-time national championship head coach thinks he has a great shot at doing it again in 2014.d
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