Big Ten M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 14th, 2014

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  1. On a day where love is celebrated, Indiana fans are not feeling much of that emotion toward Tom Crean and his squad after they squandered a double-figure lead at home against Penn State Wednesday night. The Hoosiers were booed off their homecourt after playing as though they had never encountered a full-court press before. They turned the ball over 3 times in the last 2:06 against said press, and coughed it up 20 times total during the contest. Indiana fans have already been on edge due to some uneven performances this season, and now after this latest loss, things aren’t going to calm down anytime soon.
  2. People tend to forget that Michigan has a really young roster. That’s why head coach John Beilein admitted that they’ve had more success than he necessarily envisioned this season. The Wolverines are tied for first in the conference with 6 games left to play, despite losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary. Nik Stauskas is a Player of the Year candidate, but it’s been a different player stepping forward every night that has lead to their 10-2 league record. The jury is still out as to how far they’ll go come March, but if they get their defense in order, they could be right back in the Final Four.
  3. Lost in the shuffle of Shavon Shields’ 33-point effort for Nebraska on Wednesday night was the play of backup point guard Benny Parker. Parker was an absolute nuisance of that side of the floor, as he had 4 steals and caused countless other disruptions for the Illinois offense in their 67-58 win. While not much of an offensive threat, Parker has seen his minutes increase in the wake of Deverell Biggs being dismissed from the team. Coach Tim Miles essentially counted him out in the preseason, but he’s definitely earned an increase in minutes going forward, especially with the ineffectiveness of Tai Webster in recent games.
  4. In the preseason many people thought that Ohio State would still be really good even with the loss of 2012-13 leading scorer Deshaun Thomas. It hasn’t necessarily worked out that way however, as the Buckeyes currently have a 6-6 conference record with 6 games left. The loss to Michigan Tuesday night highlighted an ongoing theme for this year’s team, the inability to make open shots. The Buckeyes slogged through a 3-for 20 effort against the Wolverines, and they proved that despite having a tenacious defensive unit, their lack of NBA-ready talent and their lack of offensive punch will probably be their undoing during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. Illinois head coach John Groce are still left searching for answers in the wake of their most recent stumble at Nebraska Wednesday night. Tracy Abrams is one of the major culprits when looking at potential scapegoats for the team’s poor performance ever since Big Ten play started. The junior guard quietly went 0-for-4 from the field against the Cornhuskers, and committed 3 turnovers. Groce isn’t worried about the shooting, but he’s more worried about Abrams playing better defense and taking care of the ball. Veteran players like Nnanna Egwu are still bringing the effort and intensity, as are the five freshman that are on the roster. In watching the Illini however, you have to wonder whether some of the other upperclassmen like Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have already checked out once they realized that their season will not likely include an NCAA berth.
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Illinois Will Continue to Slump Without More Consistent Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 26th, 2014

After a 12-2 non-conference record and a 2-0 start to the conference season, Illinois was considered a likely candidate to make the postseason. However, with an offense that has sputtered to average just 0.95 points per possession in Big Ten play, it appears that the Illini don’t stand a chance against the rest of the conference. Opposing defenses have figured out John Groce’s predictable offense this season and have exposed the team’s biggest weaknesses – a lack of consistent three-point shooting and a play-maker who can create offense in the half-court. An inside scoring presence wouldn’t hurt as well, as Nnanna Egwu has regressed after a decent sophomore season.

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice's offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice’s offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

During the first two months of the season, Rayvonte Rice appeared to be what Illinois fans wanted Brandon Paul to become during his four years in Champaign – a freak athlete who could punish defenses in the paint with his body. In order to understand their offensive issues, let’s review Rice’s slide during the recent four-game losing streak. Against Ohio State, he couldn’t buy a shot and finished without a single point in what was a must-win game. He is good at what he does — penetrate the paint off of screens going to his right — but the same play has become predictable. Egwu and Jon Ekey have the ability to hit an open jumper, but neither is very effective in setting screens to free the ball-handler. In fact, most of the time their screening technique is so flawed that it could be considered an illegal pick. Even without an effective screen, Rice is quick enough to get around most defenders but he needs to have the option to kick out a pass to the corner if the opposing big man bites. The scouting reports have forced teams to back off and simply wait for Rice to barrel through the lane, often forcing him to put up an off-balance and low percentage floater.

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Deja Vu: John Groce’s Illini Slumping in Early January Again

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 15th, 2014

Illinois’ loss to Northwestern on Sunday night was eerily similar to a horrible stretch for the Illini last season. On January 12, 2013, John Groce’s squad was thumped in Madison by the Badgers — a 23-point loss where its offense had no answers for Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes. That was followed up by a home loss to an injury-plagued Northwestern squad, which along with a previous home loss to Minnesota, represented an early three-game losing streak in conference play. On Wednesday of last week, Groce’s offense again could not find a decent shot in Madison, losing 95-70 to the Badgers, and the team looked completely off in scoring just 15 points in the first 24 minutes of the game in Evanston. Losing to an unimpressive Wildcats squad puts the Illini in a tough spot because they are about to enter a tough seven-game stretch where they will be favored to win just one of those games — a home contest against Purdue. The Illini really needed to enter that stretch with at least three Big Ten wins and the most recent loss very well could put a dent in their ultimate postseason plans.

John Groce's Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

John Groce’s Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Illini have a 73 percent chance of beating Purdue tonight. But the next few games include match-ups against Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And their “winnable” game after that stretch is a road game against Penn State in Happy Valley — not necessarily a guaranteed win, either. Extrapolating over the next few weeks, the Illini could easily end up with 3-7 league record by February 9, with a must-win game coming against the Nittany Lions to salvage their season. They were in a similar spot a year ago, but were able to dig themselves out with a home buzzer-beater against Indiana and a tough win over Minnesota on the road (thanks largely to D.J. Richardson’s scorching shot). Is there a reason to panic yet in Champaign? Absolutely. It is troubling that Rice felt no sense of urgency over the first 20 minutes of the game in Evanston, as he was held to zero shots from the field. When he was able to eventually find his offense, he forgot to play defense by letting the Wildcats’ Tre Demps hit a couple of wide-open shots from beyond the arc. Not to pick on Rice, but as the best offensive player on the team, he needs to set the tone by driving to the basket and assuming a leadership role over the next few weeks if the Illini hope to win road games at Indiana or Penn State.

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Big Ten M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. After a disappointing non-conference season, Michigan will need to have a healthy Mitch McGary in the lineup to compete for a Big Ten title. McGary, who was plagued with back issues throughout the offseason, did not play against Stanford over the weekend. He will visit the doctors to understand the reasons for his back’s continued soreness, but the timetable for his return is indefinite at this point. His team was able to eke out a win against the Cardinal, 68-65, but McGary’s presence will be a requirement against powerful Big Ten competition. Back problems can nag for a while and this situation may linger throughout this season, but Wolverines’ fans still have hopes that they can make another deep run in the postseason if McGary can play injury-free by March.
  2. Speaking of McGary’s much-needed presence, the Wolverines will especially need him when they play Michigan State, led by senior forward Adreian Payne. Payne is averaging 18.1 PPG and 8.0 RPG this season, but his improvement over the last three years is more impressive than his numbers this season. Two years ago, Payne was still learning his role, playing alongside star forward Draymond Green. But after exploding halfway through his junior season, Payne still continues to polish his game on both ends of the floor. Shooting 45.7 percent from beyond the arc this year shows his progression from a player reliant on his athleticism to a well-rounded offensive threat whose jumper must be respected.
  3. Is there any highly-ranked team more under the radar than Ohio State this season? The Buckeyes used a miraculous late comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday to remain undefeated despite still trying to figure out their offensive identity. After getting off to a slow start, LaQuinton Ross has averaged over 18 PPG over the last three games and appears to be on pace to find his offensive rhythm. He scored 19 against Notre Dame and the Buckeyes will need him his consistent offensive production to provide a solid foundation if they hope to remain ranked in the top 10 and compete for a Big Ten title.
  4. Speaking of consistent offensive production, Iowa needs to develop a consistent outside shooter if the team wants to achieve all of its goals this season. Josh Oglesby, one of the Hawkeyes’ designated gunners, will return to the lineup after missing some time due to an ankle injury. During non-conference play, Zach McCabe has provided a long-range spark from deep (43%), but the Hawkeyes need another deep threat and Oglesby should help in that department. Even though he only made a pedestrian 27 percent from deep last season, he has the ability to get hot and score in bunches which should only add to the offensive firepower of the Hawkeyes.
  5. Illinois’ Tracy Abrams can be frustrating to watch during late-game possessions, but John Groce has shown that he will stick with him when the game is on the line. Against Oregon, Abrams repeatedly tried to to do much with the ball and ended up turning it over several times during the final minutes of the game. But his toughness and gritty attitude — what Groce likes about the guard — were on display against Missouri over the weekend, when he nailed two free throws to win the game with just five seconds remaining. Abrams is not likely to ever turn into a true point guard who takes care of the ball first and foremost, but he has the support of his coach and his teammates during the final minutes of games and it paid off over the weekend.
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Previewing Braggin’ Rights: Illinois vs. Missouri

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 21st, 2013

If one were to grade Illinois’ season performance before heading into Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri, they would probably have to give the Illini an “I” for incomplete. John Groce’s team is 9-2 with no especially bad losses, but no significantly good wins either. Their two losses against Georgia Tech and Oregon were on the road and down to the wire; a free throw made or different bounce of the ball and the Illini might currently sit undefeated with a different season trajectory. But Illinois is where it is and today’s game against Missouri provides the last chance for the Illini to notch a non-conference resume win.

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Nnanna Egwu and the Illini are hoping to get their first win against Missouri since 2008 on Saturday.

The Tigers have won braggin’ rights for four seasons in a row, but before that run the Illini had won nine years straight. If John Groce is going to start a new streak in the rivalry today, here are three things he’ll need his team to do:

  1. Keep charging the glass and getting offensive rebounds. Unlike last season, this year’s team is not effective at scoring beyond the arc (33.8 percent from deep). The way they’ve countered their lack of long-range shooting is by creating additional scoring opportunities from the offensive glass. The Illini have an offensive rebounding percentage of 37.1 percent (which ranks in the top 50 nationally) and three of their starters are averaging two or more offensive boards per game. They’ll need to keep this up against a Missouri team that so far has been excellent at minimizing its opponents’ offensive rebounds. Since the Illini do not rely on a perimeter attack from behind the arc, there should be fewer long rebounds for guards like Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross to grab. Illinois should stick to what it does best — drive to the rim and have others follow behind for putbacks. Read the rest of this entry »
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To Reach Its Goals, Illinois Needs More Than Rayvonte Rice

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 5th, 2013

The game was over. The picture was clear — with a 12-point lead at Georgia Tech and less than seven minutes left, the Illini were going to move to 8-0 on the season and make it five straight wins against the ACC in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. And it was all going to be because of Rayvonte Rice. He had built the big lead for Illinois from a three-point halftime deficit by scoring 15 points in the second half, including a 10-0 run of his own making. He was his usual aggressive self: driving to the basket, getting to the line, and creating fast breaks from steals. But once the Yellow Jackets adjusted their defense to take away those scoring opportunities for the redshirt junior, Rice’s teammates put on a show themselves — one of passivity and fecklessness that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. From that point, Georgia Tech went on a 19-4 run to close out the game and notch its first Challenge win since 2006. In order for the Illini to put this collapse behind them and eventually get back to the NCAA Tournament in March, someone other than Rice will have to evolve into a consistent second option.

Rayvonte Rice went off for 24 points, but was unable to get help from his teammates to secure a win.

Rayvonte Rice went off for 24 points, but was unable to get help from his teammates to secure a win.

In the final six minutes of the game, the Illlini (at least those without Rice on the back of their jersey) went 1-of-9 from the field, including an oh-fer from deep, and committed two poorly-timed turnovers. With Rice unable to affect the game, this left the door open for players like Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey to carry the load and seal the win. None of this group were aggressive in trying to find their own shot and it seemed as if the team’s game plan was to simply run out the clock. Particularly disappointing was Abrams who was instrumental in willing Illinois to a win over IPFW last Friday, scoring eight of his 15 points in crucial moments of the second half. As the player with the most big game experience (he leads the Illini in career minutes), and as someone known for his toughness and moxie, he managed only to take one shot (not including the final prayer at the buzzer) while Georgia Tech was storming back.

In previous outings, it has been either Abrams, Bertrand or Ekey who has stepped up to complement the steady hand, Rice. But none of these three players have proven they can be consistent scoring threats on any given night — all three players have had multiple single-figure scoring outings this season. Therefore, the scouting report is out on the Illini — focus on stopping #24 and let someone else beat you. In order to get to the other side of the bubble by March, John Groce is going to need to motivate one of his other talented but inconsistent players to become this year’s D.J. Richardson to Rice’s Brandon Paul.

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Big Ten M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 2nd, 2013

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  1. Tom Izzo is not afraid to discipline his star players. Over the past few seasons, he benched Korie Lucious and eventually kicked him out of the team. He benched Kris Allen midway through the season and dealt with the consequences with the media. A few days ago, he benched Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson because they skipped classes during the finals week. Not starting the three stars did not affect the Spartans as they beat Mount Saint Mary’s 98-65 at home. When asked about the decision, Izzo said, “It’s not about missing a class or two. It’s about you get here to finals week and there’s certain things you’ve got to take care of. Unless you’re dead, you’ve got to get ’em done.”
  2. Nik Stauskas may have the most scrutinized ankle in the Big Ten. He didn’t start against Coppin State over Thanksgiving weekend because he sprained his ankle against Charlotte. Stauskas did not play against Coppin State, but he wasn’t needed because freshman Zak Irvin chipped with 24 points as the Wolverines won the game. John Beilein is unsure about Stauskas’ status for the game against Duke, which is part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. “I don’t know,” Beilein said. He added, “Until he’s practicing 100 percent, he won’t go in there. He’s got to be pretty close to 100 percent to go in there.” Without Stauskas, it will be extremely difficult for the Wolverines to beat Jabari Parker’s Blue Devils in Cameron. Stauskas is averaging 20.3 PPG and has clearly been the best scoring option for Beilein so far this season.
  3. Illinois freshman, Jaylon Tate, was impressive against UNLV by dishing five assists during the game. Tate has surprised the fan base so far, but junior guard’s Tracy Abrams‘ toughness is still more important this season. After an impressive win over the Rebels on the road, the Illini struggled to beat Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne 57-55 at home. Abrams was pivotal in leading Groce’s team to a win by scoring 15 points. Groce on Abrams: “This guy right here, without him we probably don’t get it done. He willed us. He had that look in his eyes.” Abrams doesn’t have a great jumper but he wills his way into the paint to bang against the big guys and get to the free throw line off the pick-and-roll play.
  4. Even though Ohio State is ranked in the top 10 in the country,  it is unclear who their best player is this season. We know Aaron Craft is a defensive forcem but he isn’t always reliable to put up points to lead his team against formidable competition. LaQuinton Ross is supposed to succeed Deshaun Thomas as the main offensive scorer this year, but he has averaged just 8 PPG so far this season. So the question remains: who is Ohio State’s “alpha dog”? Despite Ross’ slow start, he still remains the best option for Ohio State, otherwise, they will have a tough time scoring against tougher competition.
  5. Three weeks into the regular season, are we ready to say that Indiana is a contender in the Big Ten? Or are they still “rebuilding,” despite their excellent freshmen: Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams? USA Today interviewed head coach Tom Crean to get his view on this season. When asked about Vonleh, Crean responded, “I think he wants to be one of the best players in the country. He’s well-aware of what other guys are doing because he’s played against those guys.” Vonleh is an absolute beast on the boards (10.4 rebounds per game) and could average a double-double this season. With consistent three-point shooting, the Hoosiers have a legit shot to compete for a Big Ten title, or at least be competitive at home against the top teams from the conference.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #8 to #5

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

With the basketball season set to tip off for some Big Ten teams tomorrow, the five of us at the Big Ten microsite took a poll to see how the 12 teams will finish this upcoming season. If you missed it, yesterday we previewed teams #12 to #9, and today we look at the teams we believe to be in the middle tier. These teams have a chance to finish higher if their freshmen play well and returnees develop, but these same question marks mean they could easily tumble lower too. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see the four teams we picked to land at the top of the conference. And feel free to debate, argue and discuss how much or how little we know what we’re talking about.

8. Illinois

John Groce

John Groce Starts His Second Season With Numerous Questions

  • What they do well: Let’s be honest, there are a lot of question marks with this team thanks to only five returnees. In Groce’s first season as head coach, though, the team took good care of the ball, averaging a turnover on only 14.7 percent of possessions. The new guards will need to continue this trend as Illinois was 25th in the country last year in this statistic.
  • What they don’t do well: Sharing the ball was a struggle for Illinois. It only averaged 10.1 assists per game last season, ranking 319th in the NCAA.
  • Get to know: Rayvonte Rice. The redshirt junior has been lighting it up for Illinois in the exhibition contests and could earn the starting spot at the shooting guard position. He appears to have drastically improved his outside shot and with five freshmen on this team, his play and leadership will be needed.
  • Why they’ll finish eighth: The team takes time to gel and the freshmen, while talented, aren’t quite ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. The loss of players like Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson are too much for the program to overcome.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: They get solid guard play from Tracy Abrams and Rice’s outside shot isn’t just strong in exhibitions. The youth is as talented as believed to be as it wins a lot of early games and has a confidence that carries into Big Ten play.

7. Purdue

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Can Tracy Abrams be the Point Guard John Groce Needs?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 23rd, 2013

Things went well for John Groce in his first year as Illinois’ head coach. The Illini started the season 12-0, won the Maui Invitational for the first time in school history, beat #1 ranked Indiana in thrilling fashion, won an NCAA Tournament game (only their second since 2006), nearly upset #2 seed Miami in the Round of 32, and received commitments from two Top 50 recruits this summer. Groce did an impressive job motivating his team. Consider that the Illini had a 2-7 record in conference play in the beginning of February and closed the regular season 7-4 to make the NCAA tournament. The long term looks good for the Illini too. Groce has secured a top 10 recruiting class and is waiting on an influx of transfers who are scheduled to play next year. But this year, the Illini are expected to take a step back, only returning three players who logged significant minutes from last year’s team. Of these three, junior guard Tracy Abrams, and particularly his ability to play the point more effectively, may be the biggest factor that determines whether the Illini go dancing in consecutive seasons.

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Last year, Abrams shared ball-handling duties with now-graduated Brandon Paul, and was the Illini’s third leading scorer (10.6 PPG). But Abrams’ grind-it-out style isn’t what Groce would prefer to see in his point guard. The Illinois coach wants to play an up-tempo offense with a point guard who can make smart decisions at different speeds. Abrams, who averaged 3.4 assists per game last season, was second on the team in turnover percentage, averaging 19.4 turnovers for every 100 possessions. He also shot poorly from deep last season (27.2 percent), which hinders Groce’s designed system of opening up the floor. However, what Abrams lacks in natural point guard abilities, he makes up in competitiveness and moxie. He was voted MVP by his veteran teammates at the end of his freshman year because of the effort he displayed throughout the season, and he has shown an ability to step up his game in crucial moments. Last season, he scored 27 points in a win against Auburn when the rest of his team struggled, and he hit a three to seal a win at Minnesota in a pivotal conference game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Oregon and Oregon State

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 9th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up next; the Oregon schools.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Oregon

Dana Altman's Oregon Team Is On The Rise, But They Have A Few Tests To Handle Before Pac-12 Play Begins In January. (credit: Alex Brandon)

Dana Altman’s Oregon Team Is On The Rise, But They Have A Few Tests To Handle Before Pac-12 Play Begins In January. (credit: Alex Brandon)

Cream of the Crop: vs Georgetown (11), vs Illinois (40)

Oregon has managed to get two high profile, neutral site games on its non-conference schedule. The Ducks will face Georgetown on opening night at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, in a game to be televised by ESPN. The Hoyas finished 2012-13 with a 25-7 record and notched six victories over Top 25 opponents. Of course, the last time we saw Georgetown, it was getting dunked all over by Florida Gulf Coast in an NCAA Tournament opener. Oregon’s second marquee opponent is Illinois, who they will meet in Portland on December 14 at 6:00 PM in a game also televised by the ESPN family of networks. It looked as if this would be a return game for former Oregon State point guard Ahmad Starksbut his transfer waiver was denied last week by the NCAA. The Fighting Illini are still loaded at guard, with both Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand returning.

Solid Names: San Francisco (167), Pacific (97), Cal Poly (164), @ Mississippi (48), UC Irvine (126), BYU (63)

Mississippi headlines the second group, and the Ducks and Rebels will meet December 8 in Oxford. The game will tipoff at 2:00 PM and be carried by ESPNU. Dynamite senior Marshall Henderson is back after leading Ole Miss with 20.1 PPG last year, and while the guard is currently suspended, he will likely be back by December. Outside of him, however, the Rebels are pretty thin, and a finish in the lower half of the SEC is likely. BYU presents a challenge for Oregon. The Ducks and Cougars will play December 21 in Eugene, and the team that won 24 games in the 2012-13 campaign is expected to compete with Gonzaga for the WCC title. Pacific is the only other team on Oregon’s non-conference slate with a double digit RPI.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 4th, 2013

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  1. March is upon us and as teams wind down their regular season over the next week, they will also honor the senior classes during the last home game. Illinois seniors – D.J.Richardson, Brandon Paul, Sam McLaurin, Tyler Griffey – did not want to lose their last home to Nebraska, a team that they couldn’t afford to lose on Saturday. Fortunately for them, Tracy Abrams chipped in 16 points to lead the Illini to a 72-65 win over the Cornhuskers and the seniors were very emotional in Champaign. “I was under my shirt crying,’’ said guard Brandon Paul, who evidently shed a few tears after the grind-it-out victory. The Illini finish the regular season with two road games against Iowa and Ohio State; they could use one more win to lock in a good seed for the NCAA tournament.
  2. While the Illini seniors won their last home, the Badgers’ senior class were upset by the Boilermakers on Sunday. Matt Painter’s team stunned the Badgers by beating them 69-56 and dominated for most of the second half at the Kohl Center. Mike Breuesewitz, Ryan Evans, and Jared Bergren shot a combined 9-24 from the field in a loss that will be booked under the “bad” category by the selection committee on Selection Sunday. “They were just hitting tough shots. This game kind of reminded me of the Cornell game my freshman year,” Evans said, referring to the 2010 NCAA tournament game in which the Big Red shot 61.1 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from three in an 87-69 defeat of the Badgers.
  3. Senior guard Julian Welch (3.3 PPG and 1.6 APG) of the Gophers had a great performance on Saturday against Penn State by scoring 10 points and dishing out seven assists. Welch hasn’t seen much playing time during the season so far because Tubby Smith has used a tight rotation, but this performance could catapult his minutes over the next few weeks as they get ready for the postseason. “It’s just been hard for him to get into the lineup,” Smith said. “It’s always tough when you’re a senior and a junior college transfer and the expectations were to play a lot more. But he showed a lot of character in stepping up today. I’ve got a lot more confidence in him now.”
  4. Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have had some issues offensively over the past two weeks and the first half against Indiana over the weekend was no different because they only scored 14 points. The Hoosiers led 26-14 at the halftime and pulled away to win 73-60 at home as they inch towards a Big Ten title. “I wouldn’t call it a freeze-up,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “It was a really good defensive effort by a good defensive team.” The Hawkeyes can’t afford to fall behind in the first half on Tuesday against the Illini because they could really use that game to make a case for the Selection Committe that they deserve a bid to the NCAA tournament.
  5. Speaking of the Hoosiers, freshman Yogi Ferrell scored a career-high 19 points and dished out five assists against the Hawkeyes. Senior guard Jordan Hulls has struggled against Iowa, shooting 0-17 during the two games this season, but Ferrell had a huge offensive game. After the game, head coach Tom Crean said,  “Tonight he went to the rim and didn’t try to get the contact. In the Minnesota game, he tried to get the contact, and he didn’t get either. Tonight he really focused on making the basket, and he did a much better job with that.” Ferrell hasn’t carried the offensive load this season but having a game like this one should help his confidence as the Hoosiers get ready to make a run at the Final Four and potential the national title.
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A Closer Look At Illinois’ Issues During The Losing Streak

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 22nd, 2013

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.

After a surprising 13-1 start to the season, Illinois has been in a funk over the last two weeks. Losing at Purdue to tip off the Big Ten season could be written off as an aberration because it was the first road game of the conference season but their recent three-game losing skid has raised several questions about the team’s future in the near term, specifically as to their quest for an NCAA Tournament bid. The main reason behind their hot start was their deadly long-range shooting but the good old saying, “You live by the three and you die by the three,” has certainly been true in the Illini’s recent losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. During those three games, Illinois as a team has shot just 8-of-58 (14% 3FG) from beyond the arc! It is no secret that they lack a true big man who could hold his own in the low post, and therefore the team has no choice but to depend on perimeter shooting in its offensive sets. But a closer look into these three losses reveals that there are two other aspects of their game that have hurt them in addition to their shooting woes, but the good news is that these areas can certainly be improved to get out of the slump.

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Perimeter defense: Illini guards Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Joseph Bertrand may have gone cold from beyond the arc recently, but they also need to do a better job of defending the three-point shot on the other end of the court. Their opponents have knocked down 51% (27-of-53) of their attempts from long range over the last three games. If you can’t find your jumper, the least you can do is to step up your defense and make the opposition earn its points. Bill Carmody’s Wildcats had a horrible game offensively against Iowa, but their wings drained five three-pointers in the first half in Champaign to build a 15-point lead which forced the Illini to play catch-up for the last 30 minutes of the game. Groce’s guards have also played poor transition defense and have given up open shots to opposing guards who prefer to drive rather than shoot, such as Minnesota’s Joe Coleman. Coleman torched the Illini by scoring 29 points from all over the floor – he shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and picked up three easy baskets in transition following a missed three-pointer by the Illini — and it was obvious that Paul or Richardson were more frustrated about their shooting slump than getting back on defense. The lackadaisical defensive effort by these players can clearly be attributed to their offensive struggles. When they can’t find their offensive rhythm, they often run back down the court without picking up their assigned man. The lack of good perimeter defense exacerbates these offensive woes because once they fall behind in the game, they have no choice but to rely on the trey even more to cut into the lead. Defensive issues can easily be corrected considering the team’s depth at the guard position. With Tracy Abrams, Paul, Richardson, and Bertrand at his disposal, Groce has four guards who can be part of an effective rotation. Even though 6’7″ wing Mike Henry has struggled with his defensive rotations, he still has the athleticism to become effective on the defensive end. Read the rest of this entry »
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