An afternoon of upsets (Michigan and Penn State both toppled higher-seeded foes) gave way to a more predictable evening at day two of the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, the two bubble teams in action may have each punched tournament tickets… to different, less-prestigious tournaments. Indiana may be good to dance after defeating Northwestern, but Illinois is surely NIT-bound after its decisive loss to Michigan. A few other news and notes on Thursday’s action from the United Center:
John Groce’s Seat Warming Up: Thursday’s loss to Michigan means Illinois is almost certainly headed to the NIT, where the Illini will seek to salvage some shred of meaning from a disappointing season. John Groce has recruited well since arriving in Champaign, but the former Ohio University head man has yet to finish a season with a winning Big Ten record. His only NCAA Tournament appearance at Illinois came in 2012-13, and that happened with a team largely constructed by his predecessor, Bruce Weber. Groce is going nowhere this offseason, but if the Illini find themselves in a similar spot next postseason, his job status will be far less certain. The good news for Illinois is that the return of Tracy Abrams and another talented incoming freshman class could, and maybe even should, lead to a happier result in Champaign a year from now. It will be interesting to see how much the Illini miss Rayvonte Rice next year. On the one hand, he was a legitimately efficient volume scorer – a player prototype that doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But Illinois’ 6-3 record without Rice this season raise the question of whether his ball-dominating nature might have often been counterproductive. We’ll find out in a critical 2015-16 campaign for Groce and the Illini.
Nittany Lions Drop Hawkeyes: Iowa was a trendy sleeper pick heading into the action yesterday, but Penn State quickly and effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament. The loss changes little for the Hawkeyes except for the fact that Fran McCaffery’s team is now squarely staring down the barrel of a dreaded #8/#9 game. Things could be worse, though – they seem to be safely in the field, and unlike last year, shouldn’t be headed to Dayton. On the other side, Penn State won its third straight Big Ten game — no small feat considering the Nittany Lions had won just three of 17 league games before embarking on their recent surge. More good news for Penn State fans: Purdue awaits the Lions in the next round. No disrespect to the Boilers and their impressive 12-6 Big Ten season, but they are clearly the easiest option among the four teams that received double-byes. Penn State pushed Purdue to overtime in State College in their only meeting of the season; can the tournament’s most unexpected quarterfinalist find a way to extend its stay in Chicago for at least another day?