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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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

On the penultimate weekend of Big Ten conference play, the heavy hitters came up with some large performances.Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Iowa’s Aaron White, and Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice all stated their cases for all-Big Ten inclusion in leading their teams to key wins. The quartet combined for 99 points over the weekend, showing that they are ready to go as the calendar has flipped to March. Nothing too earth-shattering happened in terms of results from the weekend games, but as always, here are some of the highlights.

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Weekend: As he’s done for the majority of the season, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky lit up the stat sheet against Michigan State in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. If you thought that the Spartans’ front line may have given the Badgers a tough time down low, think again. Rather, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes had their way inside with Tom Izzo’s team, combining for 28 points in the first half. Kaminsky, quiet from the outside lately, nailed 3-of-4 attempts from deep en route to 31 points for the game. He led the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks, and tied for the team lead in assists — just a typical game from a senior who’s having an absolutely tremendous season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Josh Oglesby hasn’t had a very good senior season. Considered one of the better outside shooters in the Big Ten, he is only shooting 31.4 percent from behind the arc, even after his 4-of-8 effort in Iowa’s 81-77 overtime win over Penn State on Saturday. That number won’t matter if Oglesby can find his stroke to give the Hawkeyes a consistent perimeter threat from here on out. He managed 12 points off the bench, combining with fellow senior Gabriel Olaseni to produce 24 of Iowa’s 27 bench points for the game. The Hawkeyes are still one of the most difficult teams in the country to figure out, but the riddle will be easier to answer if Oglesby can give his team some consistent outside scoring.

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Big Ten M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on February 16th, 2015

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  1. Iowa dropped its Sunday match-up with Northwestern in overtime, bringing its record in Big Ten conference games decided by single digits to 9-20 over the past two seasons. The Hawkeyes are falling into their annual February funk – they went 3-4 last February, and it nearly cost them an NCAA Tournament berth. They don’t have many chances to grab big wins over the four weeks of the season. If anything, Iowa will face plenty of opponents looking to play spoiler, including Rutgers, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern. One loss to any of those teams, no matter if the Hawkeyes can clean up Illinois and Indiana, could be the final nail in the coffin for their NCAA dreams.
  2. Northwestern obviously won’t be making the NCAA Tournament this year, but there is plenty of reason to be positive following the Wildcats’ win over Iowa. Chris Collins young team fought through six single-digit losses in January before losing its three previous games this month by double-digits. It was apparent that those close losses had a major effect on the young team’s psyche, but they may have turned a corner on Sunday. The Wildcats bench players played a huge role in the win, with Gavin Skelly menacing Aaron White and Dave Sobolewski sinking two crucial free throws in overtime. The Wildcats needed the win to give it a boost heading into the final four weeks of the season and beyond, and they got a ugly, yet massive one.
  3. Illinois endured a drubbing via the hands of #5 Wisconsin on Sunday but there are quite a few positives one could take from the game. Malcolm Hill continued his hot streak even with Rayvonte Rice back in the lineup, shooting 55.5 percent from the field and pouring in 15 points. Illini faithful should have two more years to watch Hill blossom into an elite talent, writes Jim Vainisi of The Champaign Room. According to Vainisi, Hill is a lock for Third Team All-Big Ten, but if he continues his torrid pace, he could find himself as high as second team.
  4. Penn State dropped a heartbreaker to Maryland at home on Saturday, and head coach Pat Chambers lost his mind (with good reason) in regards to an offensive foul call that very likely cost the Nittany Lions their fourth Big Ten win. Chambers’ outburst is almost certainly going to warrant a fine from the Big Ten, but standing up for his players undoubtedly his its benefits. Penn State’s recent history suggests that they’re perpetually mediocre, but they are improving. The Nittany Lions final stretch is absolutely brutal with match-ups against Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota, but even one upset win over any of those teams (coupled with a win over Northwestern) would put them in a good position heading into next season.
  5. Frank Kaminsky bolstered his already strong candidacy for Naismith Player of the Year with another double-double in Sunday’s win over Illinois, pouring in 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Kaminsky leads KenPom’s player of the year ratings, and has undoubtedly cemented himself as the Badger’s most important player. Their only Big Ten loss came in his absence against Rutgers. Wisconsin hasn’t skipped a beat with the loss of Traevon Jackson, and they could probably withstand another injury to one of their starters. But without Kaminsky, they have proven that their prone to struggle. With them, though, they’re a serious national title contender.
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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: 01.16.15 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: 01.09.15 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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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 Sophomore Spotlight: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the second year is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they’ve improved in their first year-plus and what it means for their teams going forward. First, here’s a look at Illinois sophomore Malcolm Hill.

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

  • 2013-14: 4.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38.3% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 77.0% FT, 14.1 MPG, 19.8% usage, 99.4 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 14.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 54.8% FG, 43.8$ 3FG, 71.1% FT, 25.4 MPG, 26.3% usage, 120.1 Offensive Rating

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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Big Ten M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 1st, 2014

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  1. Maryland lost Dez Wells to a fractured wrist in their win over Iowa State last week, leaving a major void in their starting lineup. The Terps struggled without Wells in their five-point victory over Monmouth, but were able to put a solid performance together on Sunday in a 95-77 victory over VMI. Graduate transfer Richaud Pack dropped 22 points and while junior Jake Layman and freshmen Dion Wiley and Melo Trimble picked up 19. The thing Maryland will miss the most from Wells is his leadership on the court – at one point in time, Maryland played a lineup entirely made up of players in their first year as Terrapins. Maryland’s youth will be tested soon as they’ve got a date with No. 8 Virginia on Wednesday, and the Cavaliers are a veteran-laden crew with their top five players being juniors or seniors.
  2. Michigan State fell to Kansas in the Orlando Classic title game on Sunday and their depth was tested as the Spartans ran into foul trouble very early on in the matchup. Head coach Tom Izzo was forced to insert a current walk-on and a former walk-on into his lineup, allowing Kansas’ Cliff Alexander to feast on the inexperienced Spartans in the post. Michigan State played 4 games in 6 days and Branden Dawson played with flu-like symptoms throughout the week, and the Spartan’s turn around quickly as they face Notre Dame on Wednesday.
  3. Illinois had a great Thanksgiving week, capping it off with a win over Baylor in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday. Rayvonte Rice earned tournament MVP honors while Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu joined Rice on the all-tournament team. The win over the Bears was huge for the confidence of Hill, who has made tremendous strides since his freshman season. Illinois faces stiffer competition this week in the form of No. 17 Miami (FL) and No. 12 Villanova.
  4. Indiana’s defense is a major concern for Tom Crean as the Hoosiers prepare for a tough December schedule that puts them against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Butler, and Georgetown. Indiana gave up 98 total points in the paint versus Eastern Washington and Lamar – not exactly college basketball powerhouses. Those types of interior issues should make their opponents mouths water, especially after Indiana struggled with UNC-Greensboro on Friday. The Hoosiers ranked 150th in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rating (98.6), and that number has to improve quickly before they start playing the big boys.
  5. Purdue closed its appearance at the Maui Invitational with a two-point victory over BYU by the hands of J. Hammons, who connected on a game-winning hook shot in overtime. The Boilermakers are 5-1 and are set to face undefeated N.C. State on Tuesday. Nathan Baird highlighted five early season trends that have led to Purdue’s successful start – including the Boilermaker’s impressive use of length and freshman Vince Edwards stellar play.
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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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