Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.20.14 March Madness Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It is finally here. Not counting the play-in games (sorry Iowa), the NCAA Tournament is here and the Big Ten sees plenty of action. Four Big Ten teams are in action in the NCAA Tournament today. With this in mind the predictions are final and play begins, and Michigan State got a huge supporter on its already overflowing bandwagon. President Barack Obama made his picks and had the Spartans as the last team standing. With how the Spartans have played lately they have become a hot team to pick as the favorite to make it to the Final Four from its regional. The big question is if this team has finally gelled with everyone healthy. If it has, Obama and plenty of others will have made the correct pick on national champs.
  2. The Selection Committee had plenty of juicy second round (seriously, can we drop this first/second round game stuff already?) games and one certainly is Ohio State against Dayton. The instate match-up of little brother versus big brother with more than a few compelling storylines. There is the obvious state match-up implications of the major conference foe against the mid-major as Ohio State rarely schedules fellow Ohio schools (its last game against Dayton came in 2008 in the NIT). Then there is Thad Matta going against a former assistant coach in Archie Miller. Let’s also add in Dayton’s Jordan Sibert, who transferred from Ohio State. Not to mention this could be Aaron Craft‘s last collegiate basketball game. With all of this surrounding the opening game of the second round, it is plenty enough of a reason to take an extended lunch break.
  3. Bo Ryan is used to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been there plenty of times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand its significance for Wisconsin‘s players. He makes sure to allow his guys to enjoy the moment and not just focus on the “business at hand” when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It’s an interesting approach to hear, but also refreshing because Ryan is right. While he may go year after year, most of these players have at most four chances to make it here, so it means more to them to enjoy the atmosphere and chance to be there. Still, with its opening game against American the Badgers are focused on a team that plays a methodical style and pace. It likely helps Wisconsin having played Northwestern this year (who uses the same Princeton style offense as American), so don’t be surprised if the Badgers don’t struggle too much with this slower pace and get to enjoy the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game.
  4. Michigan certainly would love to make it back to the National Championship Game again this season. That chance starts by having to avoid the upset to a No. 15 seed in its opening round game, the same No. 15 seeds that have sprung three upsets in the past two tournaments. This is something the Wolverines are certainly aware of as they take on Wofford. It likely helps Michigan that it knows what it takes to make it back to the final and that it can’t overlook a single opponent on the way. Still, the most interesting perspective may be that the Wolverines are preaching not overlooking Wofford while using the belief they are being overlooked to the make the NCAA as motivation.
  5. While the future certainly looks bright for Illinois, that doesn’t mean the seniors want to see their careers end yet. The Fightin’ Illini got a huge game from Rayvonte Rice as they won their first round NIT game last night by coming back against Boston University. Rice dropped 28 points as he said after the game he wanted to make sure he extended seniors John and Joseph Bertrand’s careers. For a game that started terribly for Illinois as it trailed 30-13, Rice helped them respond and comeback. This extends the season at least one more game with the second round NIT date TBA against Clemson.
Share this story

Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Weekend in Review: Injuries Catch Up with Contenders

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2014

It’s been enough of an ordeal for Michigan State to try to win B1G games and stay in the top five of the national polls without injured superstar Adreian Payne. The combination of Payne and Branden Dawson (broken hand) out of the lineup, coupled with a scorching hot Michigan team, led to the Spartans’ first conference loss on Saturday evening. Meanwhile Nebraska proved that it is going to be a tough out any time teams have to travel to Lincoln this season. The Cornhuskers moved to 9-1 at home with their Sunday night win over a Minnesota squad playing its first game without an injured Andre Hollins (ankle). Despite the loss, Malik Smith stepped in for Hollins and put up 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. Here arethe rest of the peaks and valleys from weekend number four of Big Ten play.

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska's upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska’s upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Player of the Weekend: Terran Petteway: The season Petteway is getting greatly overlooked due to Nebraska’s mediocre record. The transfer from Texas Tech has been getting buckets in a variety of ways all season long, and this was fully evident over the weekend against the Gophers. He went for a career-high 35 points, shooting 10-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three, six boards, three assists, a steal and a block. Minnesota had no answer for him, as he continually burned the Gophers from deep and by getting into the lane whenever he wanted. Nebraska has a nice core to build around for future years, and Petteway has the chance to be at the forefront of this renaissance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Competition Will Exceed Expectations

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 10th, 2014

Trey Burke is now running the pick-and-roll for the Utah Jazz. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are currently trying to improve the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats, a year removed from dominating college basketball. About a week ago, one of the biggest questions about the Big Ten was about the lack of star power in the league this season. The aforementioned trio of players dominated headlines last year and this season’s biggest returning star, Mitch McGary, will not be around for most of the season due to an injury. Still, after the first week of the conference schedule, it is safe to say that despite the lack of star power, the level of competition between teams in the league will not be any different than it has been. There might not be several NBA lottery picks on these 12 squads, but teams shouldn’t take any conference match-up for granted. A handful of key games over the last week-plus have shown everyone just how competitive this league will be over the next 10 weeks.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing.  (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

If you turned off the Michigan State – Ohio State game Tuesday night because the Buckeyes were down by 17 late in the second half, you made a big mistake. Sure, the Buckeyes’ offense isn’t pretty in the least, but there is something to be said about the way they muscled their way back into the game. And yes, part of the comeback was allowed by the Spartans’ lackadaisical attitude during the final six minutes, but it was still impressive to see Thad Matta’s team storm back without their main offensive weapons on the court. Both LaQuinton Ross (13.7 PPG) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (12.7 PPG) were on the bench with just 12 points combined while Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson tied the game by scoring in transition and playing tough defense. During last season’s game in East Lansing, Shannon Scott put up a horrible shot during the final possession of an incredible game. Ironically, he almost won the game this time with a steal and transition layup during the final five seconds of regulation. The star power for Ohio State may not be there right now, but players such as Mark Loving are growing up right in front of our eyes during these games and could end up as household names by the end of March.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Rayvonte Rice, and a Newbie Squad Led by a Former NBA Sharpshooter

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 3rd, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

After an unforeseen circumstance, some traveling and Christmas, welcome back to Who Won The Week? Let’s get down to business.

WINNER: Kentucky

Kentucky was an easy choice this week. (Getty)

The Wildcats were an easy choice this week. (Getty)

The nation’s top team on the offensive glass and at getting to the free throw line managed to net a home win over its in-state rival and defending national champion in their only game in two weeks. Not bad, right? Doing it without the services of super-freshman Julius Randle in the second half as he was sidelined by cramps makes it even more impressive. In his stead, fellow freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young combined for 46 points – after Randle had scored 17 points in the first half – as the Wildcats pulled off a 73-66 win in Lexington and picked up its first marquee non-conference win in the process. After missing out on neutral-court shots versus Michigan State and Baylor, notching a win against the top team in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings is a nice way to salvage a good non-conference schedule.

LOSER: Louisville

OK, so Russ Smith did this, to Julius Randle, no less.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 2nd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Since news broke of Indiana‘s Luke Fischer transferring on Monday, the rumors of where he is headed quickly followed. A Wisconsin native, the former top-100 recruit had many thinking he may return home to the Badgers, but that isn’t the case. Fischer announced on Twitter last night that he would not transfer to any other Big Ten school out of respect for Tom Crean and the Indiana program. It’s not certain if Fischer made this decision on his own or whether the Indiana coaching staff hinted they would block a transfer to another Big Ten program, but it does certainly eliminate plenty of places that people thought Fischer could end up.
  2. College athletics certainly has its costs, and for big programs that means paying smaller schools to come to their arena and (hopefully) trade a loss for a substantial check. A recent MLive.com article reports that Michigan spent nearly $450,000 this season to host its five guarantee games. At this point it shouldn’t be news to read about the cost of these “guarantee” games, but it is interesting to see how much it typically costs a Big Ten program to bring in those small schools. For Michigan, as an example, it typically costs somewhere upward of $80,000 per game on hotel rooms, comped tickets and the team’s transportation. Not a cheap expenditure to add another W to the resume.
  3. It’s been a different kind of year for Wisconsin and Bo Ryan. Used to methodical games with little scoring, the Badgers have utilized a more high-powered offense to go along with its usual stingy defense this season. Their ability to avoid long scoring droughts like they experienced at times last year makes the Badgers confident that they can potentially win the Big Ten heading into their conference opener against Northwestern tonight. Wisconsin has raised its offensive statistics nearly across the board, with a higher shooting percentage, three-point percentage, free throw shooting and efficiency at this point in the season. Unlike some previous seasons, Bo Ryan’s team has shown it can win with multiple players having the ability to create their own shot and make it.
  4. The Big Ten is a conference loaded with plenty of stars and well-known names across the country like Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III. One name not often mentioned when discussing the conference’s top players is Minnesota‘s Andre Hollins. Rant Sports’ Paul Kilgas said Hollins is actually the conference’s most underrated player. It’s an interesting argument to consider because the league is loaded with solid guards. Hollins is averaging 16.2 PPG along with 3.0 APG and 4.0 RPG, but unless the Gophers have an outstanding season, he is likely to be left off many all-Big Ten ballots at the end of the year. He has certainly been the biggest key driving Minnesota’s strong start to the season, and if the Golden Gophers make a push for the upper echelon of the league standings, Hollins will without question be the catalyst.
  5. With non-conference play now over, the Big Ten Powerhouse writers got together and voted for their non-conference all-Big Ten team. It’s a solid group of five with Adreian Payne, Sam Dekker, Keith Appling, Rayvonte Rice and Tim Frazier on the list. It’s tough to really argue against that five, although Nik Stauskas has been just as phenomenal for Michigan as some of his teammates have been disappointing. Stauskas was in the next grouping of those receiving votes, along with Yogi Ferrell, Glenn Robinson III and DJ Newbill. All of these players will be looking to make the official all-Big Ten teams in a couple of months and have made excellent cases to start the season with their stellar play.
Share this story

Three Questions on Illinois vs. Indiana

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2013

If you haven’t seen this clip by now, you should: Illinois’ Tyler Griffey beating the buzzer by laying it in to upset top-ranked Indiana in Champaign last year. This season, both are considered middle of the pack teams in the conference, but the rematch later today (3:00 PM ET) of these rivals will certainly be juicy in Champaign. To get things started, Big Ten microsite writers Brendan Brody and Deepak Jayanti address three key questions surrounding the Big Ten opener for each team.

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

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

Can the Illini contain Noah Vonleh on the boards or will get they destroyed on the glass?

  • Brendan Brody: In kind of a roundabout way, the best way for Illinois to keep Vonleh off the glass might be to attack him on the offensive end. If they can get him into foul trouble like Connecticut did, they can neutralize the advantage Vonleh gives to Hoosiers. Destroyed is a strong word here because Illinois does a decent job rebounding the ball as a team, but Indiana has other players like Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams who also do a nice job gathering misses that will lead to second shots on the offensive end and will fuel their transition game.
  • Deepak Jayanti: If Rayvonte Rice can get to the hoop off of screens and force Vonleh to challenge him at the basket, it is likely that the big and talented freshman will get into foul trouble. But that’s easier said than done because Vonleh is learning how not to pick up easy fouls. Having said that, the Illini will struggle to keep Vonleh off the glass regardless. Junior forward Nnanna Egwu appears to keep moving away from the paint because he prefers to shoot the jumper off the pick-and-roll. Joseph Bertrand and Rice average over five rebounds per game each, and one of them will be busy trying to box out Williams while Vonleh will be left one-on-one against Egwu or Jon Ekey — a rebounding match-up that favors his abilities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.31.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 31st, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Happy New Year’s Eve! A new year means new beginnings and a chance to possibly start over. So maybe not coincidentally, this is also transfer season in college basketball. A time of year where players all around the country have decided that their current program is no longer the place for them and need a fresh start. It only took one semester at Indiana for Luke Fischer to decide he needed to seek another opportunity and subsequently announced that he was transferring. Unlike his fellow freshmen teammates, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, Fischer was not able to contribute significantly mostly due to a shoulder injury. He just started to work his way into the rotation but apparently it was not enough for him to stay. Fischer was a Top 100 recruit and while his departure shouldn’t affect the Hoosiers drastically this year, Tom Crean loses a potentially effective player in the future.
  2. After their impressive win against Missouri, Illinois is in position to challenge, once again, for an NCAA Tournament bid. If they do so, it would be an impressive feat since this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for John Groce after losing his two top scorers from last season. A major reason the Illini have been able to stay competitive is due to the emergence of transfer Rayvonte Rice, who won his second Big Ten Player of the Week honor on Monday. Rice is no Brandon Paul when it comes to upside potential, but his stats certainly look similar after half a season — last season, Paul  averaged 16.6 PPG,4.4 RPG, & 2.7 APG, while Rice has averaged 18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, & 1.9 APG thus far this season.
  3. Along with Rice, Michigan State’s Keith Appling also won Big Ten Player of the Week. This is his first such honor of the season and the fourth in his career. Though he won the award for last week’s performance, where he scored 27 points, dished out 8 assists, and grabbed 5 rebounds against New Orleans, his production has been outstanding throughout the entire season. Thus far, Appling is averaging a career high in points and assists. As Michigan State prepares to enter conference play and battle for sole ownership of a league title, they’ll need not only Appling, but Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, to keep performing at their current All American levels.
  4. Wisconsin has been the most impressive Big Ten team in the early part of the season. Not only are four of their five starters effective scorers, but their bench can score as well. We have seen the likes of Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig already contribute, and you can add freshman Nigel Hayes into the mix as well. The 6’7″ big man from Toledo won Freshman of the Week honors off his 10 points, 4 rebounds, and three blocks performance against Prairie View A&M. Hayes has jumped ahead of Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon as the first big off the bench when Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker need to be spelled. Hayes is an important part of the Badger’s tremendous success early this season and he will continue the winning tradition in Madison for years to come.
  5. Conference play starts today! And it starts early in the day (1 pm ET) when the undefeated Buckeyes come to West Lafayette and face struggling Purdue. While the Boilermakers have had disheartening defeats (and some disheartening wins against inferior teams), they have recently racked up some face-saving wins against Boston College and West Virginia. Both of those teams have had disappointing seasons as well, and they won’t impress anyone come Selection Sunday. But losing to them would have caused the bottom to fall out on Purdue’s season. In the first game of Big Ten play, Purdue needs to show that they can at least put up a fight against the Buckeyes — a team vying for a league title — to show their fans they will be able to compete during all of conference play.
Share this story

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.

missouri illinois

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 »
Share this story