Aaron Cosby’s Injury Hurts Illini But Not Insurmountably

Posted by Eric Clark on January 22nd, 2015

llinois’ season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, as its roster has been ravaged by injuries on its way to a mediocre 13-7 overall record (3-4 Big Ten). News released prior to Wednesday night’s game against Purdue (a 66-57 win) revealed that junior guard Aaron Cosby tore the retina in his left eye early in Sunday’s 80-74 loss to Indiana, playing approximately 16 minutes with the injury. The Seton Hall transfer went 0-of-5 from three-point range in that game, but has been a solid contributor — 7.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG — for John Groce’s team all season. The junior is expected to miss the next two weeks.

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Junior Aaron Cosby suffered a torn retina in his left eye Saturday vs. Indiana. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Illinois’ backcourt was one of the deepest in the Big Ten heading into this season with experienced guards Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice returning, young but seasoned sophomores Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn back, and transfers Ahmad Starks and Cosby entering. Abrams of course tore his ACL before the season even began, and Rice is currently sidelined with a broken hand. Hill has been solid – his high-water mark of 28 points and seven rebounds coming in the team’s upset of Maryland. Cosby was a 38.8 percent three-point shooter in his two years at Seton Hall and was expected to be a legitimate scoring threat but he has struggled from both long-range (31.1 percent) and inside the arc (25.9 percent). His turnover rate is also the second highest among Illini guards this season (15.3 percent). Despite all of those ugly offensive numbers, Illinois’s disappointing season will be worse for wear without him in the lineup for the next two weeks.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

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  1. Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances took a major hit on Sunday when it learned that junior Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season with a left foot injury. With non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines needed a stellar conference record to impress the selection committee. With their leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, Michigan’s youth-laden roster will be further tested by the heart of the Big Ten schedule. The next week-plus could be particularly rough for them, as a chunk of their squad is suffering from some sort of illness or injury.
  2. Indiana got the best of Illinois on Sunday despite squandering double-digit leads in both halves. Zach Osterman of the Indy Star said the Hoosiers’ resiliency shown today is a sign that they’re headed in a direction that many thought impossible after their tumultuous offseason and non-conference slate. Osterman said that while Indiana has been impressive thus far, they aren’t a contender for the Big Ten title – but given the circumstances they faced in October and November, their recent play is worthy of praise.
  3. Northwestern’s stellar freshman Bryant McIntosh was inconsolable after suffering a two-point loss to Michigan – but according to Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, McIntosh’s miss didn’t matter. What is important, Bushnell said, is that Northwestern is playing well against decent teams. The losses the Wildcats have suffered aren’t in vain, because their improvements are evident. Head coach Chris Collins understands the frustrations surrounding the team’s last three losses, but he stressed that the team’s improvement is an ongoing process.
  4. D’Angelo Russell wowed a national audience on Saturday, dropping 27 points and gathering 14 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 76-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Despite Russell’s performance, Ohio State was familiarly inconsistent and Thad Matta found few positives to take after the Hawkeyes completed their sweep of his squad. According to Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ recent losses are more indicative of their play and not of the strength of their opponents. With a starting lineup that features three seniors, it’s a bad sign that a freshman (albeit a future NBA lottery pick) is proving to be the most consistent player on the team. If the Buckeyes want to maintain a position at the top of the conference standings, they’ll need more out of their experienced players to complement him.
  5. Minnesota defeated Rutgers on Saturday, picking up their first conference win of the season. Their 0-5 start in conference play was the worst since 2005-2006. A loss to Rutgers would have killed the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but Andre Hollins dropped in 31 points to save the season for the time being. Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune said the win brought a jovial feeling back to the locker room, a good sign for a team that was very apparently feeling the pressure in its last few games. The Gophers next five games are all very winnable as they face Nebraska twice in addition to matchups with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

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  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Northwestern has gotten off to a decent 10-6 start overall with an extremely young lineup. Vic Law came from Chicago’s famed Catholic League as what Wildcat fans hoped would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chris Collins and the Windy City’s best high school players. Fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh has shined, while Law has struggled to adapt to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.  It’s too early to write him off as a bust, but Law needs to produce more than the 2.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG he has contributed in his first three B1G games.
  2. While things haven’t been great this season for Michigan, they have something to look forward to on January 24. Consensus top five wing Jaylen Brown will make an official campus visit on that Saturday when the team takes on Wisconsin at the Crisler Center. Brown would obviously be an enormous coup for the Wolverines. The team they have this season is mainly made up of underclassmen. Even if Caris LeVert were to leave early, having Brown to go along with most of the pieces that should return to Ann Arbor could make the 2015-16 Michigan unit one to be reckoned with in the league next season.
  3. Hanner Mosquera-Perea suffered a knee injury on Monday in practice, leaving Indiana and their already undersized frontline even smaller. The junior from Columbia is averaging 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG this season in a little under 21 minutes of court time. He had been in Tom Crean’s doghouse for getting into early foul trouble in recent games, and now it looks as though Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman will get most of his minutes inside for the Hoosiers. Hartman played 23 minutes with Holt logging 13 in their win over Penn State last night, but it’s worth monitoring the situation to see how Indiana survives after going from very little size to no size at all.
  4. Frank Kaminsky will be back in the Wisconsin lineup Thursday night when they take on Nebraska in Madison. The senior who leads the team in four major categories (points, rebounds, steals, and blocks), missed the loss against Rutgers after suffering a concussion in the Purdue game last week. The Badgers will still be shorthanded as they will be missing Traveon Jackson due to injury, but with Nebraska playing better with their whole team now healthy, the return of Kaminsky is needed.
  5. Illinois faces a critical test when they travel to Evanston to face their in-state rivals tonight. Despite losing Sunday night against Nebraska, their defensive effort was pretty solid. The problem they’re having without Rayvonte Rice is that they simply can’t shoot the ball. Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette broke down just how pedestrian the shooting numbers have been as of late. Two specifics he mentioned were the fact that Nebraska played off of Jaylon Tate, daring him to shoot from deep. He also mentioned the fact that Nnanna Egwu simply can’t score in the post when he isn’t facing up. If Aaron Cosby and/or Ahmad Starks can break out of their collective year-round slumps, then things might change. Otherwise this team will be buried before Rice returns to the lineup.
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Big Ten M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 12th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news of the weekend was Rutgers 67-62 upset win over Wisconsin Although the Badgers were without Frank Kaminsky (concussion-like symptoms) and lost Traevon Jackson during the game, the Scarlet Knights second Big Ten win is still a quality one. Those injuries, however, could continue to hurt the Badgers beyond today’s loss. Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com reported that assistant coach Greg Gard said Jackson’s foot injury isn’t good and he’ll have it evaluated further back in Madison. Kaminsky‘s presence was certainly missed as Rutgers, the worst-shooting team in the conference, drained shots at a 66.7% clip in the second half on Sunday. If there was any doubt that Kaminsky is the engine that makes this team go, it was emphatically erased on Sunday.’
  2. Illinois’ loss of Rayvonte Rice didn’t seem to hurt them in last Wednesday’s win over Maryland, but he was sorely missed after Sunday’s loss at Nebraska. The Illini play great defense with or without Rice, as they hold the 36th best defensive efficiency rating in the country and have yet to allow an opponent to score over 80 points this season. Their offense is another story – they shot 27.3 percent from the field on Sunday. The Champaign Room said Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby’s play simply has to get better in order for the Illini to have any success the rest of the year. The two are shooting 32.6 and 28.5 percent from the field this year respectively.
  3. Maryland added some girth to its frontcourt this weekend as Ivan Bender, a forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted immediate eligibility. Bender, who stands at 6-foot-9, averaged 14.3 points and 9 rebounds per game with KK Split of the Junior Euroleague. The Terrapins already have junior Jake Layman and senior Evan Smotrycz at power forward, so it’s unlikely that he’ll crack any playing time right away in that position. They are quite young at the center position, however, playing sophomore Damonte Dodd and freshman Michal Cekovsky a majority of the time. It won’t be a surprise if Mark Turgeon decides to redshirt Bender, effectively staggering the eligibility of all of his big men.
  4. Northwestern fell at the hands of Michigan State in overtime on Sunday, but it seems the Wildcats picked an infamous moral victory, even if they won’t admit it. But that moral victory shouldn’t be enough for Northwestern -they should have won the game, but they again fell victim to ‘hero ball’ writes Inside NU’s Henry Bushnell. Had the Wildcats operated their offense like they did for the first 39 minutes of the game for the entire 40, head coach Chris Collins might be tabbing Sunday’s game as a signature victory for the program. In the end, it seems that Northwestern just got tired and opted for one-on-one matchups versus team basketball late in the second half and in overtime – and it cost them the game. But the ‘Cats are young, and this experience will certainly serve them well in the future.
  5. Michigan and Minnesota faced off on Saturday, two programs seemingly headed in opposite directions after the non-conference slate at the end December. Michigan was reeling from losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan while Minnesota was high off of an 11-2 non-conference record. The directions of those teams seemed to have flipped though, as the Wolverines downed the Gophers, pushing Michigan’s Big Ten record to 3-1 and dropping Minnesota’s to 0-4. Richard Pitino didn’t offer any answers to his team’s struggles after the game, but he had better figure some out. While the Gophers are considered one of the best passing teams in the country, the rest of their game is not up-to-par. And with a matchup with Rutgers looming, Minnesota may have its hands full with a confident team fresh off of a monumental upset.
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Big Ten M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 9th, 2015

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  1. On Wednesday night, two conference unbeatens met as Purdue went to the Kohl Center to battle Wisconsin, with the Boilermakers falling just short in a seven-point loss. Despite the defeat, Purdue took some positives from the game, such as their effort in outrebounding the Badgers by five. Matt Painter can take some level of pride as his team came close to upsetting a national title contender on the road, something not many figured it was capable of doing this season. The Boilermakers’ impressive 2-1 start to conference play means that their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament is within reach, but they shouldn’t get complacent because they have another tough match-up on Saturday hosting Maryland.
  2. It had been a rough week for Illinois going into Wednesday night’s game against #9 Maryland. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 start in conference play and had just lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury for at least three weeks. So it’s only natural — given the way that Big Ten play has made so little sense this season — that they shock everyone with a 64-57 victory over the Terps. The Illini were down early but blew up late with a one-man show from Malcolm Hill taking over the game (Hill scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half). It was Illinois’ defense, though, that carried the day in holding Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting and limiting super frosh Melo Trimble to only three free throw attempts (five fewer than his season average). That defense is going to have to continue its newfound effectiveness for the Illini to stay afloat until their senior leader returns.
  3. After last night’s 75-61 defeat of Iowa at the hands of a can’t-miss Michigan State squad, Wisconsin remains the only undefeated team in conference play. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Spartans went into halftime down by 11 points but came surging back with a 25-9 run after the break. The difference was Michigan State’s perimeter game, in which the Spartans made 12 three-pointers and shot at a 70 percent clip — Travis Trice, in particular, was 7-of-8 from deep. This now makes it two blowout wins in a row for the Spartans, as they are starting to look more like the Tom Izzo teams we’re accustomed to seeing.
  4. Indiana will prepare for an important game in Bloomington hosting Ohio State this weekend, as a win over a ranked opponent will mitigate some of the effects from the drubbing Michigan State gave them. Given the Hoosiers’ up-and-down season to go along with the preseason off-court issues, chatter about Tom Crean‘s status on the hot seat has not subsided much. But The Crimson Quarry blog wrote an article using Nebraska football as an example to explain why removing Indiana’s head coach of six years may not be a wise decision. This could be sage advice, as we see every year that it is becoming more difficult to lure desirable coaches from comfortable situations. Look no further than the examples of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens consistently spurning every college offer that was put in front of them over the past few years.
  5. Finally, the season premiere of The Journey will be on the BTN at 10:30 PM ET after this weekend’s games. If you follow this site, you most likely are already familiar with the program, but in case you’re not, it’s definitely worth watching or recording. It is as well-produced of a series as any other program on television and it takes you deep into off-court storylines of the coaches and players we watch every week. It is must-watch TV every Sunday night.
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Morning Five: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Illinois suffered a huge loss when Rayvonte Rice, the team’s leading scorer, broke his left hand in practice on Monday. Rice, who was averaging 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, is expected to miss the next three to six weeks, but that all depends on how he responds to the surgery. For Illinois, which managed to knock off Maryland in its first game without Rice, they now face an uphill battle if they hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament. While their win against Maryland (and the relatively weak Big Ten this year) might give Illinois fans a reason to believe they will be able to survive Rice’s absence, the reality is that they probably lack the firepower now to be competitive with the top of the conference.
  2. It takes a lot for a rehearsed recruiting announcement to catch our attention, but when you announce that you are committing to a different school than you actually are, we notice. So when Carlton Bragg, a five-star forward in the class of 2015, announced that he was going to Kentucky, but put a Kansas cap on (he is going to Kansas…we think) it caught our attention. Bragg could find himself in a crowded Kansas frontcourt, but for now he does not appear to have any issues with that saying, “I don’t really care for minutes, I just want to be part of the team.” For what its worth, Bragg isn’t the first Kansas commit to confuse people during his announcement as Cliff Alexander faked out Illinois fans last year by reaching for their hat before going for a Kansas hat. Unlike last year, we doubt that there will be much sympathy for Kentucky fans who finally missed out on a big-name target.
  3. If Syracuse fans were hoping that DaJuan Coleman could be the missing piece to help turn their season around, they can forget about that now as the junior center has opted to officially redshirt this year. The news should not be that big of a surprise since Coleman has not played in a year after injuring his knee on January 7, 2014. Although Coleman’s prior production (4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season) might not seem worth noting, he was a big-time prospect coming out of high school and a great deal of his poor production can be traced back to his injuries. His redshirt could help Syracuse going forward by giving them more experience in the frontcourt in coming years.
  4. It looks like we may have seen the last of Kuran Iverson in a Memphis uniform. The 6’9″ sophomore, who had been averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, was suspended for two games earlier this week for an unspecified violation of team rules. He compounded that infraction by retweeting a tweet critical of Josh Pastner although he subsequently deleted that retweet. We don’t know much about Iverson’s background in terms of legal issues and his interactions with Pastner, but we would be surprised to see him in a Memphis jersey again.
  5. Proponents of increasing benefits for student-athletes appear to have received a small victory as the NCAA is trying a pilot program where they will pay for travel for the families of players competing in the men’s and women’s Final Four. The families of players competing in the college football title game will also be provided with this benefit. The football players will be allotted $3,000 (from the College Football Playoff not the NCAA) to cover their family’s expenses (travel, accommodations, meals, etc) while basketball players will receive $4,000 from the NCAA for those expenses. We are not sure how this will be enforced as players can definitely find ways to take advantage of this particularly if their families live near the venues, but overall it appears to be a victory for student-athletes albeit a very small subsection of them.
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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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John Groce’s January Drearier Than Usual With Rice Injury

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2015

It appears safe to say that January may not be John Groce’s favorite month. In the two and a half seasons he’s spent as the head coach at Illinois, the 43-year old Indiana native has gone 3-13 in the first month of the year, including Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Things will not get any easier for him in coming weeks as news was released today that his leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, will be sidelined for five to six weeks with a broken hand that he sustained during Monday’s practice. This is a devastating blow to Groce and his already-struggling offense as the Illini now have to slog through much of the rest of Big Ten play without their best offensive player.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce faces his most difficult challenge yet with Rice out for the remainder of Big Ten play.

Rice’s injury may turn out to be the final wave that capsizes the boat on the Illini’s unfortunate and disappointing season. While a quick look at their resume may not visibly show a sinking team, this squad has not lived up to preseason expectations. With the introduction of two sharpshooting transfers in Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby and an additional year of development for the sophomore duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, this season’s Illini were supposed to have resolved last season’s offensive inadequacies. Things initially went according to plan early, but Starks and Cosby have gone cold from the field since December (a combined 31 percent from the field in the last eight games), and Nunn, who started the season injured, has never returned to the same level of play he showed at the end of last season. Hill may be the only player who has lived up to his expected billing, but he too has managed to disappear in a few games.

The only constant for Illinois had been Rice, and now they are without their rock. The Illini will miss more than his scoring, as the senior guard provides contributions all over the court — 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 48.3% 3FG — but perhaps the most telling statistic that shows his impact is the gulf between his Player Efficiency Rating (31.9) and the next best player, Hill’s (22.5). Now, midway through a trying season, Groce will need to reinvent his roster with the same players who have disappointed him all season. In order to salvage something out of it, someone will have to emerge in the next six weeks to help mitigate the loss of Rice. Otherwise, this winter of Illini discontent will last a lot longer than just January in Champaign.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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