Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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News & Notes: Day Two at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

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.

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon (Getty Images)

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?

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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Evaluating Rayvonte Rice’s Career at Illinois

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 8th, 2015

Despite averaging 16.0 PPG over two seasons in Champaign, Rayvonte Rice’s Illinois career has had several bumps along the way. There is no argument about his offensive ability but his leadership could be called into question because the Illini — depending on the next seven days — have not made an NCAA Tournament on his watch. He struggled during Big Ten competition last season as the Illini lost eight straight at one point, and although the team has been better during his senior season, he hasn’t been able to close out some games because he was too predictable. If the Illini get back to the NCAAs next week, all may be forgiven; but assuming they do not after a tough loss to Purdue yesterday, let’s examine the three primary reasons why Rice’s game didn’t translate to more wins at Illinois.

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Over-reliance on the long-range shot and predictable moves. Rice’s athleticism is too much to handle during the non-conference season because most of those teams don’t have defenders with enough strength to prevent him from getting to the rim. Big Ten defenders, however, are just as strong as him, and the coaches are too smart to allow him to get to the basket off of screens. Double-teams are common when he comes off screens to his right as opposing defenders force him to shoot from beyond the arc. His junior season was plagued with horrible shot selection, attempting 156 threes and only making 30 percent of them. Frustrations mounted during his slumps as he continued to force shots instead of sharing the ball with his younger teammates. The insertions of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting lineup last season helped to ease the burden somewhat, but it came a bit too late. Rice should have let the game come to him and relied more on his teammates. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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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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Illinois’ Point Guard Conundrum Continues

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 17th, 2014

Remember when the Illini had three guards who could man the offense with no trouble from 2003-05? Luther Head, Deron Williams and Dee Brown could set up the offense without any confusion, move the ball around with confidence, and pull up for a three without any issues if the shot clock was winding down. Yep, that was about 10 years ago. Since the trio left Champaign, though, Illinois has struggled to find a consistent point guard comfortable with both distributing the ball and creating his own shot. Chester Frazier didn’t really have a consistent jumper. Demetri McCamey was versatile on the offense but he couldn’t consistently involve his teammates. Brandon Paul was a combo guard, and while Tracy Abrams commanded respect from his teammates, he just didn’t have enough quickness to utilize his offensive moves and still carry a consistent assist rate. With Abrams now gone, there was a glimmer of hope that incoming transfer Ahmad Starks could be the efficient point guard to finally lead an offense that could launch the program back into the Big Ten elite. But after the first month of the season, the situation appears as bad as the last few seasons in that regard.

Ahmad Starks hasn't been able to exceed Tracy Abrams' performance from last season so far this year.

Ahmad Starks hasn’t been able to exceed Tracy Abrams’ performance from last season so far this year.

Starks’ game has several positives: He is quick to get around screens and has a much better looking three-point shot than Abrams. While a 35 percent mark from three isn’t all that impressive, his average is more a result of poor shot selection than mechanics. He also hasn’t been able to connect with his teammates during the second half of important games. Let’s take the latest loss to Oregon as an example. Even though Illinois assisted on 17 of its successful field goals, the offense looked completely clueless when it mattered. If the ball went inside to the low post, it never came back out. There was no lateral movement. If Starks couldn’t break his defender down, he dumped it over to Malcolm Hill who did the same – scoring only six points. The same goes for Aaron Cosby and Kendrick Nunn. Illini shot a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc but taking 19 shots from there is concerning. There is no point guard who can set up plays that require ball movement and could actually result in a decent-looking shot in the waning minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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Oregon Showing Signs of Life

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 15th, 2014

It’s very much still football season for Oregon fans, but the basketball team offered Ducks’ faithful a reason Saturday night to also pay attention to them. While Marcus Mariota was busy accepting college football’s highest individual honor at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City, Dana Altman’s band of Ducks was carving out their best win of the season against a solid Illinois team playing in its home state. The end result in Chicago – a 77-70 Oregon victory – had to generate minimal buzz back in Eugene (the school’s first Heisman winner casts a substantial shadow), but it represented an important first step for a young team. Nobody should expect the Ducks to become any more predictable than they have been over the course of an up-and-down first month of the season, but consider Oregon’s upside flashed. The good news is that in this year’s wide-open Pac 12 – a league with no proven teams outside of Arizona and Utah — a little potential might go a long way.

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2 Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2% Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

It’s always been about offense in Eugene. Whether discussing the gridiron or the hardwood, Oregon’s success has classically been predicated on dynamic offenses. The recipe should remain the same for the Ducks this season. They haven’t been terrible on the offensive end (51st nationally in offensive efficiency), but both Dana Altman and John Groce agreed that Saturday featured their crispest execution to date. Altman said that decisions to pass up good shots for great ones on three early second-half possessions set the tone for a selflessly efficient half of basketball. Joseph Young (who didn’t start due to a violation of team rules) garnered praise from Groce for his passing, while Dillon Brooks scored an effortless 24 points to lead the Ducks. The freshman will be a key player moving forward. Young is willing and able to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load, but finding a capable second option is imperative. Brooks has yet to display the consistency needed to fill that full-time role, but the stocky forward’s inside (10.1% offensive rebound percentage)-outside (45% three-point) game could make him a nice complement to a gunner like Young.

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Nnanna Egwu is the Defensive Linchpin for Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 9th, 2014

At 7-1 with only a road loss to Miami (FL), John Groce has Illinois once again playing well in its non-conference schedule. But one notable difference this year is how improved the Fighting Illini have been on offense. Due to the addition of a couple of offseason transfers, Illinois finds itself with a wealth of combo guards and wings who can score in bunches. While that revamped offense has gotten good publicity thus far, it’s been Illinois’ ongoing successes on the defensive end (91.0 adjusted defensive rating), that has Groce’s squad primed to make a return to the NCAA Tournament. The anchor of that defense, and the only reliable inside presence on the team, is senior big man Nnanna Egwu. Illinois faces #7 Villanova in Madison Square Garden tonight and it will need Egwu to lead the charge in slowing down the Wildcats’ top 15 offense (110.7 adjusted offensive rating).

Nnanna Egwu covers up a lot mistakes on defense for the Illini.

Nnanna Egwu covers for a lot of defensive mistakes for the Illini.

Egwu is the lone active senior this year – Illinois’ other senior, Tracy Abrams, is out for the season with a torn ACL – and he is averaging 7.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in a shade under 30 minutes per contest. The native Nigerian didn’t start playing basketball until the eighth grade, but his quick development led to significant playing time on Groce’s first team in Champaign. The big man still does not have much of a back-to-the-basket game on offense, but he has nice touch and can step out and shoot from the perimeter (5-of-14 from three this season). Whatever his limits are in scoring, what he brings to Groce’s defense supersedes it. Egwu is one of the top rim-protectors in the country, serving as a safety net for guards who get beaten off the dribble. His presence inside allows Illinois’ guards to be more aggressive and gamble for steals, the proof being the Illini’s top 100 steal percentage (10.8%) despite not having the prototypical athletic and long players that dominate this category.

When the Illini play Villanova tonight at Madison Square Garden, Egwu will have his hands full guarding 6’11” center Daniel Ochefu, who converts on 63.6 percent of his attempts near the rim. In addition to Ochefu, he’ll also have to act as the eraser if Wildcats’ guards Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis penetrate the lane to get to the bucket — where both are also shooting over 60 percent. With no capable replacement on the bench, Egwu must avoid fouling to stay on the court, otherwise it’ll be open season on the Illini inside the paint (Egwu to this point has avoided a disqualification on fouls this season). Illinois has relied on its center to provide a foundation to its high-quality defense, and to have any chance of walking out of the Mecca with a Top 10 scalp tonight, it will fall on Egwu to answer that call once again.

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John Groce May Finally Have His Flexible Backcourt

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 25th, 2014

Four games up and four games down for the Illini. Yes, we know it is early but it is really tough not to wonder if this is the best backcourt John Groce has had during his time in Champaign. He was hired from Ohio after a surprising run to the Sweet 16 when the Bobcats’ offense, led by D.J.Cooper, burst through the first two rounds in March by running a high-powered offense with multiple ball-handlers and shooters. Groce’s first two seasons have been sub-part at Illinois but his track record shows that his offensive system can raise havoc, given the right type of talent. That talent includes ball-handling skills from at least three positions on the floor. After three straight games of scoring 100 games, albeit against weaker competition, the Illini offense looks very promising because of five combo guards who can be dangerous with the rock. The rotation includes Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Five of them have been playing at least 20 minutes game and they provide Groce with multiple options.

John Groce has five wings that should be fun to watch this season.

John Groce has five wings that should be fun to watch this season.

Both incoming transfers, Starks and Cosby, shot at least 40% from beyond the arc in their prior lives away from Champaign. Shooting skill doesn’t hurt but it is their ball-handling ability that’s more impressive. Tracy Abrams’ loss for the season could have hurt the Illini because he had a good understanding of the offense after two seasons but Starks and Cosby aren’t too far behind. Let’s not forget that they sat out a whole season after the transfer to Illini and practiced with the team, waiting and chomping at an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the Orange Krush. Remember last season when Rice was terrific during the first 10 games because he was fully prepared after training with the team? Same goes for Starks and Cosby. Speaking of Rice, he doesn’t have to worry about carrying the offense this season because he is surrounded by shooters. Instead, he can play the wing position and take advantage of backdoor cuts and fast-break opportunities. He was a volume scorer last season which hurt his rhythm during key stretches of the conference season – that doesn’t need to happen this year because Groce can save him for crunch time.

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Addition by Subtraction: Tracy Abrams’ Injury Could Propel Illinois to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 11th, 2014

Watching a senior point guard go down with a season-ending injury before his final year is always painful. Years of experience accumulate into something of a valuable commodity. Senior guards going up against younger hot-shots during conference season is a perennial story to watch year in and year out. IllinoisTracy Abrams could have been that that guard but his absence this season may actually help Illinois settle on a more effective rotation because Abrams’ minutes can be passed onto incoming transfer guards, Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby. While John Groce could rely on Abrams to run the team because he can trust his senior guard after two full seasons in Champaign, his offense should benefit with quicker, potentially more talented, guards such as the incoming transfers. The concept of “addition by subtraction” matters for teams that are on the cusp of making it into the NCAA Tournament with a few minor tweaks to the personnel. Illinois was a bubble team last year and Abrams’ loss combined with the infusion of new talent may just be enough to push them into the top five or six teams in conference.

Tracy Abrams' loss may actually help the Illini this season.  (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ loss may actually help the Illini this season.
(Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Before understanding how Abrams’ loss helps this season, it is crucial to understand the Illini’s key weakness from last season: long-range shooting. They shot 30.4% from the long-range, ranking tenth in the conference. Shooting from beyond the arc is not Abrams’ strength but that didn’t prevent him from hoisting 111 attempts and only making 27% of them. Pulling up from from the top of the key during crucial possessions in the second half was one of the worst traits of his game. He quickly gave up pushing the ball into the paint which resulted in a horrible free-throw rate — the Illini ranked dead last in the league averaging only 30.6% of free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Groce could count on Abrams to be calm during crunch time but his shot selection was questionable at best. Take these negatives out of the equation and add two excellent shooters, Starks and Cosby. Both Starks and Cosby shot 40% from beyond the arc at Oregon State and Seton Hall respectively and they will certainly boost the Illini offense that is desperate for outside shooting.

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