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Posts Tagged ‘John Groce’

2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part one

Monday, October 27th, 2014

2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part1

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part one of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we’re splitting our preview up into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East football divisions for the sake of organization. Part two will be posted later this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Illinois Fighting Illini IllinoisLogo
Head Coach: John Groce (3rd season)
2013-14: 20-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Nnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn)
Recruiting class rank: (according to 247 Sports): #47 (Leron Black, Michael Finke)
Key non-conference games: Dec. 2 at Miami, Dec. 9 vs Villanova, Dec. 13 vs Oregon

Jon Groce took a major step backwards in his second season in the Big Ten, missing the NCAA Tournament and falling to Clemson by one point in the second round of the NIT. Illinois received a major blow during the offseason when Tracy Abrams tore his ACL, putting the senior point guard out of commission for the entire year.

Despite the loss of Abrams, the Illini offense will have to improve on an average of 64.6 points per game last season, which was good for 311th in the nation. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice joined Illinois and led the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game last year, but he’ll need help from young players like Kendrick Nunn to give the team a chance to play deep into March in 2015.

Player to watch: Rayvonte Rice. He led the team in scoring in his first Big Ten season, shooting 43 percent from the field and grabbing six boards per game.

Best-case scenario: Rice continues to improve his offensive game, and Nnanna Egwu becomes a defensive force in the paint, leading Illinois to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Worst-case scenario: The team feels the loss of Abrams and lets that set a defeated tone for the season, which carries into the gauntlet Big Ten schedule and Groce’s team ends up in a second straight NIT.

Projected finish: 8th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 64.2 11 303
Scoring Defense 62.2 2 19
Field Goal Percentage .411 11 303
Field Goal Percentage Defense .421 9 94
3-pt FG Percentage .317 11 292
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 11 164
Free Throw Percentage .733 6 59
Rebounding Margin +0.5 8
Assist/Turnover Ratio 10.0/10.4 = 1.0 10 209
Steals 6.1 6 155
Blocked Shots 3.6 9 164


Iowa Hawkeyes Iowa logo
Head Coach: Fran McCaffery (5th season)
2013-14: 20-13, 6th in Big Ten (9-9), First round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 3 (Adam Woodbury, Aaron White, Mike Gesell)
Recruiting class rank: #72 (Brady Ellingson, Trey Dickerson, Dominique Uhl)
Key non-conference games: Nov. 20 vs Texas, Dec. 3 at UNC, Dec 12 vs Iowa State

Iowa returns most of a team that put together one of the most confusing resumes in the country last season, ultimately finishing with 20 wins and squeaking into an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The only major loss is that of Roy Devyn Marble, who was the most dangerous offensive player for Fran McCaffery last season.

On offense the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 15 in points, rebounds and assists per game a year ago. At the same time, the defense ranked 12th in rebounds, 37th in blocks and 54th in steals per game, combining to form one of the most impressive statistical resumes in the country. But a 1-6 finish to the regular season set up the overtime loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and sent Iowa home as an afterthought.

This year the team will rely heavily on do-it-all man Aaron White and an athletic backcourt of Mike Gesell and junior college All-American transfer Trey Dickerson to lead a lethal offense. Center Adam Woodbury will be asked to anchor the defense as a junior.

Player to watch: Trey Dickerson. McCaffery brought in Dickerson to give the offense an element of speed, which helped him earn All-American honors in junior college. He could be a huge addition to this deep Iowa rotation.

Best-case scenario: With a balanced offense returning, the Hawkeyes learn from their late-season collapse and put together a complete season, finishing near the top of the Big Ten and priming themselves for a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Worst-case scenario: The loss of Marble puts too much of the load on White and the offense takes a step back, exposing an overmatched defense. Iowa fights through an inconsistent conference season and lands on the wrong side of the bubble in March.

Projected finish: 6th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 81.5 1 8
Scoring Defense 70.3 11 175
Field Goal Percentage .463 3 51
Field Goal Percentage Defense .415 6 68
3-pt FG Percentage .350 5 135
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .317 5 47
Free Throw Percentage .735 5 52
Rebounding Margin +7.0 2
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.1/11.2 = 1.4 4 20
Steals 7.1 3 53
Blocked Shots 5.0 2 35


Minnesota Golden Gophers Minnesota-Logo
Head Coach: Richard Pitino (2nd season)
2013-14: 2013-14: 25-13, 7th in Big Ten (8-10), NIT Champions
Returning Starters: 4 (Maurice Walker, Joey King, Andre Hollis, Deandre Mathieu)
Recruiting class rank: #71 (Nate Mason, Jr., Carlos Morris, Josh Martin, Bakary Konate, Gaston Diedhiou)
Key non-conference games: Nov 14 vs Louisville, Dec 2 at Wake Forest

Minnesota put together quite a run to end the 2014 season, winning five straight games by single digits to take home the NIT crown. As the best of the teams that didn’t make the tournament, Minnesota proved that it probably should have received an invite to the Dance.

Now, Richard Pitino returns three of his four leading scorers, including the explosive Andre Hollins, to an offense that must improve on its 71.2 points per contest from last season. Top rebounder Elliot Eliason is also back, and joins Hollins and Deandre Mathieu to form a solid core in Minnesota.

Pitino will have to fill the void left by Austin Hollis, who did a little of everything for the Gophers, averaging 12.4 points, 2.4 assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. Minnesota should be back on the bubble for an NCAA Tournamnt berth, if it can finish .500 in the Big Ten.

Player to watch: Deandre Mathieu. The Morehead State transfer burst onto the Big Ten scene last season, averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Golden Gophers. If he can improve on his numbers as a season, he could become an even better version of Austin Hollins.

Best-case scenario: Mathieu clicks, Andre Hollins makes smart decisions as an upperclassman, and Pitino leads his team to double digit conference wins in his second year with Minnesota.

Worst-case scenario: The consistency and playmaking ability of Austin Hollins is sorely missed and the committee of talented guards in Minnesota struggles to fill that gap. Minnesota ends up back in the NIT with a chance to defend their bittersweet title.

Projected finish: 7th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 7 149
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 106
Field Goal Percentage .447 7 121
Field Goal Percentage Defense .426 10 110
3-pt FG Percentage .352 4 118
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 10 170
Free Throw Percentage .742 3 45
Rebounding Margin +0.6 7
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.9/11.7 = 1.2 5 71
Steals 7.6 2 36
Blocked Shots 4.1 7 115


Nebraska Cornhuskers Nebraska logo
Head Coach: Tim Miles (3rd season)
2013-14: 19-13, 4th in Big Ten (11-7), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 5 (David Rivers, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Shavon Shields, Tai Webster)
Recruiting class rank: #87 (Jake Hammond, Tarin Smith)
Key non-conference games: Dec 1 at Florida State, Dec 7 vs Creighton, Dec 13 vs Cincinnati

After an 0-4 start to the Big Ten season landed Nebraska at 8-8 on the season, rumblings of a tournament bid completely died in Lincoln as the team featured no quality wins and two terrible losses. But then, in perhaps the most unlikely turnaround in the country, the Cornhuskers won 11 of their last 14 regular season games before being bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament on consecutive Fridays.

The X-factor for Nebraska was obvious: Tim Miles’ team simply didn’t lose in the brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena. In 16 games at home, Nebraska went 15-1 with a last-second loss to the conference champion Wolverines in early January. With that type of home court advantage this season, the Cornhuskers should be well on their way to another tournament appearance.

Of the nine players that averaged over 10 minutes per game for Miles, seven of them are returning, including two of the top offensive players in the conference: Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. The two forwards make up perhaps the most dynamic duo in the Midwest and figure to lead this team as it enters the season with something new surrounding the program: Expectations.

Last season it was a miracle for Nebraska to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but this year it will be a massive letdown if they don’t return.

Player to watch: Terran Petteway. This guy is a legitimate contender for conference player of the year. He averaged 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season while leading the underdog Cornhuskers to fourth place in the best conference in basketball.

Best-case scenario: Nebraska returns with all the magic from last season and puts together a complete campaign, winning 25 plus games and challenging Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown.

Worst-case scenario: Shields and Petteway can’t match their 2013-14 level of play and the team spends the whole season searching for a leader. In March Nebraska sits near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.

Projected finish: 4th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 66.8 10 263
Scoring Defense 65.2 6 50
Field Goal Percentage .427 9 235
Field Goal Percentage Defense .420 8 88
3-pt FG Percentage .333 7 210
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 3 42
Free Throw Percentage .717 8 117
Rebounding Margin -1.9 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 9.5/10.9 = 0.9 11 284
Steals 6.9 4 72
Blocked Shots 3.1 11 213


Northwestern Wildcats NorthwesternLogo
Head Coach: Chris Collins (2nd season)
2013-14: 14-19, T-10th in Big Ten, No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin, JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps
Recruiting class rank: #54 (Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Scott Lindsey, Gavin Skelly, Johnnie Vassar)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Georgia Tech, Dec 6 at Butler

The hire of Chris Collins from Duke University sparked a buzz around the Northwestern program last season, and the team did show signs of competing within the Big Ten. In fact, with a 5-5 conference record on the first day of February, the Wildcats were in fourth place in the conference with just 10 games to go. Unfortunately, those 10 games didn’t go well.

Northwestern lost their next seven games and eight of their last 10 to finish just a game out of the cellar. Now Collins has to move forward without his best all-around player Drew Crawford, who has taken his talents to the NBA. Crawford led the team in scoring and rebounding and was among the top three in assists and blocks last season.

The team will feature much of the same core in 2014-15, with guards JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps leading the charge from the backcourt. Seven-foot center Alex Olah is back after a solid sophomore season, and Dave Sobolewski will have to step up as a senior coming off the bench. Vic Law was a top 100 recruit and should give the team a future to build around going forward.

Player to watch: Vic Law. The freshman forward should grow into a significant role this season and play a big part in what Collins hopes to do at Northwestern. The team is deep in the backcourt, but could really use a breakout season from Law on the wing.

Best-case scenario: Northwestern’s starting lineup gels and keeps them in most of their games, thanks to career seasons from Cobb and Demps and a solid freshman campaign from Law. The Wildcats enter the final weeks of the season with an opportunity to put themselves on the bubble.

Worst-case scenario: Big Ten defenses no longer have to worry about Crawford, so the host of Wildcat guards are slowed by more focused defenses.

Projected finish: 12th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 59.5 12 347
Scoring Defense 63.4 3 30
Field Goal Percentage .396 12 335
Field Goal Percentage Defense .411 3 55
3-pt FG Percentage .306 12 318
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 4 45
Free Throw Percentage .700 10 177
Rebounding Margin -4.5 12
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.0/10.9 = 1.0 9 175
Steals 4.3 12 335
Blocked Shots 3.7 8 162


Purdue Boilermakers Purdue logo
Head Coach: Matt Painter (10th season)
2013-14: 15-17, 12th in Big Ten (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (A.J. Hammons, Kendall Stephens, Rapheal Davis)
Recruiting class rank: #34 (Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Jacquil Taylor)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Kansas State, Dec 2 vs NC State, Dec 20 vs ND

It took a truly impressive collapse from Matt Painter’s team to finish with a losing record last season, as Purdue stood at 13-5 midway through the season. A 2-12 finish certainly wasn’t what Painter had in mind, and losing his top two scoring threats for this season won’t help.

When two-time MVP Terone Johnson graduated and moved on to play professional ball in Greece, his brother, Ronnie decided to transfer and take his talents to Houston. With the loss of the Johnson brothers Painter waved goodbye to a total of 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The only saving grace is that starting center A.J. Hammons is ready to take over the team as a junior, much like JaJuan Johnson did under Painter as a sophomore five years ago.

Hammons will be joined by returning guards Kendall Stephens and Bryson Scott, who played major roles for Purdue last season. Transfer Jon Octeus could be the most important player for the Boilermakers this season after he averaged 13.4 points and 4.7 rebounds out of the backcourt for Colorado State last season.

Player to watch: A.J. Hammons. When Purdue was a Big Ten powerhouse under Painter, the centerpiece was a dominant big man inside. Now Hammons looks like the team’s only chance to get back to that level of success following a last-place finish.

Best-case scenario: Hammons takes the reins and runs with them, drawing double and triple teams to help out the trio of potential breakout guards. Purdue fights its way into the top 10 in the conference and gives the top teams headaches in February and March.

Worst-case scenario: Purdue continues to trend downward and finishes at the bottom of the league once again. Hammons isn’t ready to be a go-to scorer and Painter’s seat gets ever hotter.

Projected finish: 13th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 109
Scoring Defense 71.7 12 208
Field Goal Percentage .427 10 239
Field Goal Percentage Defense .419 7 83
3-pt FG Percentage .327 8 239
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .326 7 77
Free Throw Percentage .671 12 271
Rebounding Margin +3.5 4
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.1/12.3 = 1.1 7 140
Steals 5.6 8 229
Blocked Shots 5.3 1 28


Wisconsin Badgers Wisconsin logo
Head Coach: Bo Ryan (14th season)
2013-14: 30-8, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Final Four NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 4 (Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser)
Recruiting class rank: #108 (Ethan Happ)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Wisconsin has finished in the top four of the Big Ten standings each year since 2001, but this season, the Badgers are the favorites to land on top and return to the Final Four. Bo Ryan’s returns Big Ten preseason player of the year Frank Kaminsky along with fellow starters Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser.

The Badgers used an eight-game winning streak near the end of the Big Ten season to position themselves as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A one-point overtime win against top-seeded Arizona sent Wisconsin to Arlington, where a one-point loss to Kentucky ended a 30-win season.

Now Ryan enters the 2014-15 season with lofty expectations, thanks to a team that lost little more than Ben Brust during the offseason. Wisconsin should be one of the top teams in the Big Ten and battle for a No. 1 seed in March.

Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky. The seven-footer averaged just 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season, but his strong second half was enough to earn him preseason player of the year honors heading into his senior season.

Best-case scenario: Wisconsin picks up where it left off, blazing through the Big Ten and storming back to the Final Four behind Kaminsky and a more mature Dekker.

Worse-case scenario: Wisconsin’s veteran players take a step back and the team ends up in the fourth or fifth spot in the conference, earning a middling seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected finish: 1st

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.5 4 77
Scoring Defense 64.0 4 36
Field Goal Percentage .459 4 73
Field Goal Percentage Defense .429 11 118
3-pt FG Percentage .376 3 57
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 152
Free Throw Percentage .746 2 27
Rebounding Margin +1.5 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.3/8.1 = 1.5 1 8
Steals 4.8 10 302
Blocked Shots 3.3 10 195

Jeff Meyer to be inducted into Taylor University Hall of Fame

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Jeff Meyer(Daniel Brenner,

Michigan basketball assistant coach Jeff Meyer will be inducted into the Taylor University Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday. Taylor also happens to be my Alma mater. The university issued a release this afternoon.

“I am humbled and feel extremely blessed with this honor,” said Meyer. “Taylor University provided me a life changing college experience as a student-athlete which enabled me to establish a Faith foundation that has served my family and me well in our journey through life together.

“Life is a team sport. So many friends, co-workers, colleagues and former players have made this recognition possible. I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to these life teammates, and especially my wife, Karen, and our family for their enduring support and encouragement.”

“Jeff values his education at Taylor so much,” said Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. “He talks about it often and knows it’s been a separator for him in his life that allowed him to get into coaching and allowed him to have a tremendous career as a coach. It’s terrific to be recognized by your Alma Mater in an environment like this; he certainly deserves it and I’m glad they are honoring him in this way.”

A 1976 Taylor graduate, Meyer is beginning his seventh season as a member of the Michigan basketball staff. During in time in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have won a pair of Big Ten championships (2012, ’14) and reached the NCAA Tournament five times, including back-to-back Elite Eight’s in 2013 and 2014, including a trip to the Final Four and championship game in 2013.

Meyer has spent 36 years coaching collegiately and has been a part of 670 victories as a head and assistant coach, including 19 trips to postseason competition.

A native of Reynolds, Ind., Meyer began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Purdue, helping the Boilermakers to a Big Ten championship in 1979 and the Final Four in 1980. He then spent one season as an assistant at South Florida, where he helped the Bulls reach the NIT.

Meyer was the head coach at Liberty University for 16 seasons from 1981-97, guiding the Flames through their transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I. Meyer won 259 games at Liberty and is the school’s all-time winningest coach. In 1994, Meyer and the Flames won the Big South and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Following his time at Liberty, Meyer worked as an assistant at Winthrop (1998-01), Butler (2001-04), Missouri (2004-06) and Indiana (2006-08) prior to coming to Ann Arbor. During those 10 seasons, Meyer helped guide his teams to eight postseason appearances, including six NCAA Tournament trips, highlighted by Butler reaching the Sweet 16 in 2003.

Meyer is one of four inductees into the Taylor University Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend, joining long-time Taylor Faculty Athletic Representative Tim Burkholder, former men’s tennis head coach Bob Blume and women’s basketball player Liz Plass Martin.

Taylor is a perennial NAIA basketball power that has gained notoriety in recent years for its Silent Night tradition that has been featured on ESPN. Meyer played at Taylor for legendary coach Don Odle, who led Taylor from 1947-79. In the early 1950s, Odle founded Venture for Victory, which took all-star college basketball players on playing trips to countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Odle also coached Taiwan’s national team during the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Odle was replaced by Paul Patterson, who guided Taylor from 1979-2013. Following last season, Patterson retired as the winningest collegiate coach in Indiana history with 734, 73 wins ahead of second-place Bob Knight. He led the Trojans to 15 conference championships, 14 NAIA National Tournament appearances, two Sweet 16s and a Final Four while producing 24 NAIA All-Americans.

In addition to Meyer, Taylor has produced a great coaching tree that includes Illinois head coach John Groce, who played for Patterson from 1991-93, former Gardner-Webb head coach and current Butler University interim head coach Chris Holtmann, and Indiana Wesleyan University women’s head coach Steve Brooks.

Survive and advance: Michigan 64 – Illinois 63

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Stauskas to Morgan vs Illinois 3-14-14(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

For a team like Michigan, which won the regular season Big Ten title outright by three games over Wisconsin and Michigan State, the conference tournament is somewhat of an unnecessary exercise before the Big Dance. There’s not much left to prove except perhaps bettering their seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. There’s more to lose, from injury to loss of confidence to getting out of sync. But that doesn’t mean John Beilein’s squad wouldn’t try to win and that was evident on Friday afternoon when the Wolverines hung on to beat Illinois 64-63.

Illinois hung around for most of the first half, but in the final five minutes it seemed as if Michigan was about to flex its muscle and pull away. A Glenn Robinson III layup at the 4:48 mark put Michigan ahead 30-23 and prompted John Groce to call a timeout. But over the next two minutes, Illinois outscored Michigan 7-0 to tie the game before Nik Stauskas hit a three to end Michigan’s drought. Michigan took a 38-33 lead into the locker room.

The second half started out all Michigan as the Wolverines scored nine of the first 11 points to take a 47-36 lead. Michigan maintained a double digit lead through the under-12 timeout, but Illinois, which was fighting for its NCAA Tournament life as a bubble team, wasn’t done yet. Seven straight points pulled the Illini within four.

Jordan Morgan atoned for a rough game with the game-winning basket (

Jordan Morgan atoned for a rough game with the game-winning basket (

After a Michigan time out and a missed Stauskas three, Tracy Abrams hit from downtown to bring Illinois within one. Robinson III answered, but it would be the last point Michigan would score for the next 4:21 of game time.

Illinois took its first lead of the second half at the 4:57 mark on a Rayvonte Rice layup and after the under-four time out, Kendrick Nunn scored to put the Illini up by three. But Michigan’s freshman, Derrick Walton Jr., answered with a three to tie the game. Rice followed with another layup to put Illinois ahead 63-61 and Beilein called time out.

On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Caris LeVert, Stauskas, and Walton all missed three-point attempts after Walton and Robinson III pulled down offensive boards. Illinois was unable to take advantage, however, missing a shot, and fouling Stauskas. The Canadian sophomore made one of two to bring Michigan within one with 55 seconds remaining.

Illinois turned the ball over on a shot clock violation to give Michigan the ball back with 11 seconds left, down by one. Stauskas came off a screen near the top of the key and pulled up to shoot. Instead, he hit a rolling Jordan Morgan in the paint and the lone senior who was honored last Saturday, and who had struggled with foul trouble for much of the game, laid the ball up on the rim and it rolled in.

Groce called time out to set up a play and Abrams drove the lane, pulled up and got off a great look from eight feet at the buzzer. But it came up short and Michigan got the win.

The loss likely bursts Illinois’ (19-14) razor-thin bubble hopes, sending them to the NIT. Michigan moves on to face fifth-seed Ohio State, which beat Nebraska 71-67 in the following game. The two faced off just once during the regular season with Michigan getting the better of the Buckeyes in Columbus on Feb. 11, 70-60.

Stauskas led all scorers with 19 points on just 4-of-12 shooting. He made just 2-of-10 three-pointers, but was able to get the the free throw line often and connect on 9-of-10. Robinson III scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while LeVert added 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

Michigan made just 10-of-30 three-pointers as a team, struggling to get much offense going against the Illinois zone defense — a much different outcome than when the two teams met a little over a week ago in Champagne.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
19 points (4-of-12 FG, 2-of-10 3PT, 9-of-10 FT), three assists, two rebounds, one block, two turnovers in 38 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
15 points (5-of-11 FG, 2-of-5 3PT, 3-of-4 FT), seven rebounds (two offensive), one assist in 37 minutes

*Caris LeVert*
13 points (5-of-10 FG, 3-of-7 3PT, 0-of-1 FT), five rebounds (one offensive), four assists, one steal, two turnovers in 37 minutes

Quick Hitters:





Final Game Stats
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-11 2-5 3-4 2 5 7 0 15 1 0 0 0 37
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-5 1-3 0-0 1 2 3 3 5 3 1 0 1 27
11 Nik Stauskas* 4-12 2-10 9-10 0 2 2 2 19 3 2 1 0 38
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 5 6 4 4 0 0 1 1 23
23 Caris LeVert* 5-10 3-7 0-1 1 4 5 0 13 4 2 0 1 37
02 Spike Albrecht 2-3 1-2 0-0 0 1 1 2 5 0 2 0 0 13
15 Jon Horford 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 0 0 1 0 1 15
21 Zak Irvin 1-3 1-3 0-0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 8
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
Totals 21-47 10-30 12-15 6 20 26 15 64 11 8 2 4 200
Illinois 24-53 5-17 10-12 10 23 33 14 63 10 9 2 4 200
Full Stats

Drew’s 3 thoughts: Illinois

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Michigan-Illinois header_BTT

Michigan just wrapped up its first outright Big Ten regular season championship since 1986. Not only did Michigan win it outright, U-M won the conference by three games. The Wolverines are only the second Big Ten regular-season champion to win the conference by such a margin since 1999. There is no doubt that Michigan was the best team during the Big Ten regular season.

But there is no time for the Wolverines to pat themselves on the back. The regular season is over. Michigan’s march through the postseason begins tomorrow when it faces the streaking Illinois Fighting Illini in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. The Fighting Illini have won five of their last six games, one of which was a 64-54 victory against Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.

Illinois’ only loss during this hot streak? A 31-point thrashing by these Michigan Wolverines at the State Farm Center last week—Illinois’ worst home loss ever in that building. Will the Fighting Illini be able to exact their revenge against the Wolverines? Or will Michigan do as the past ten No. 1 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament have done and advance to the semifinals?

Here are my three keys to consider for Friday’s Michigan-Illinois quarterfinal matchup:

Tracy Abrams led Illinois past Indiana in the first round with a season-high 25 points (Victor Cortez, Illinois Athletics)

Tracy Abrams led Illinois past Indiana in the first round with a season-high 25 points (Victor Cortez, Illinois Athletics)

Don’t Waste Possessions

Illinois’ late-season surge has been keyed by an increased propensity to force its opponents to commit a plethora of turnovers. During this 5-1 stretch, Illinois’ opponents have turned the ball over 22.2 percent of the time. This is a significant bump from the defensive turnover rate of 17.8 percent that the Fighting Illini posted in its first 13 conference games, in which they earned a lowly 3-10 record.

Illinois may have the third-best defense in the Big Ten, but forcing turnovers is the only strength of its defense. The Fighting Illini are ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in both defensive rebounding and field-goal defense. If Illinois cannot force Michigan to commit turnovers, it will struggle to string together enough stops to compete with the Wolverines’ high-powered offense. Plus, fewer turnovers forced means less transition opportunities for the Illini, where they are more efficient than when in their half-court offense.

Therefore, Michigan cannot be sloppy offensively and waste possessions with unforced errors and turnovers. The good news for Michigan is that its explosive offensive rarely turns over the basketball. The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten and 10th in the nation in offensive turnover rate, committing a turnover on only about 15 percent of their possessions. If Michigan holds onto the basketball, it will routinely find itself wide open on jumpers outside and inside the three-point line. As long as Michigan knocks those down, the Wolverines’ offense will be very difficult to stop.

Lock Down the Perimeter

During the conference season, Michigan’s biggest weakness was its two-point defense. The Wolverines allowed Big Ten opponents to make 52.7 percent of their two-pointers. No Big Ten defense allowed opponents to make a higher percentage of their shots inside the arc. Opponents had this success because the Wolverines consistently failed to stay in front of opponents’ guards, allowing them to find open space in the paint easily.

Generally, this would be Michigan’s biggest defensive concern. But this is not the case against Illinois. The Fighting Illini had the second-worst offense in the Big Ten, and one the main reasons for this is that they were dead last in two-point shooting. Illinois made only 42.1 percent of its two-pointers against conference opponents. Although Michigan should do its best to stay in front of Illinois’ guards that attempt to penetrate, chances are that those guards will not be able to finish around the rim anyway.

Therefore, Illinois’ best chance to upset the Wolverines will be to find its stroke from beyond the three-point line. The Fighting Illini were not very efficient from there either, making only 30.4 percent of its threes in Big Ten play, but they need their shooters to get hot for only one game. The three Illini that Michigan need to focus on are Kendrick Nunn, Joseph Bertrand, and Jon Ekey. Nunn and Bertrand are Illinois’ two best outside shooters, converting 40 and 38.3 percent of their threes, respectively, while Ekey hangs around the three-point line with 62 percent of his shots coming from there. If Michigan can prevent these three Illini from finding their rhythm from three-point territory, points will be hard to come by for Illinois.

Don’t Expect a Repeat of Last Week

Last Tuesday, Michigan waltzed into the State Farm Center and bombed Illinois on its home court. Prior to that contest, the Fighting Illinois had held each of its previous four opponents to less than 50 points. So what did Michigan do? It piled on 52 points against Illinois. In the first half. With the help of 11 three-pointers. The Wolverines built a 22-point lead by halftime, and the second half was basically 20 minutes of conditioning for both teams. It ended with a 31-point rout for the Wolverines—the largest margin of victory for U-M against a Big Ten opponent since 1998.

This will not repeat itself tomorrow. Michigan may find itself just as open on its shots tomorrow as it did last week, but U-M cannot expect 69.6 percent of its three-pointers to drop once again. The odds are very likely that more of those shots will clang off the iron. Michigan will experience a regression to the mean at some point. It happens to everyone.

Therefore, Michigan cannot get down on itself if it fails to build another 20-point halftime lead. Last week’s blowout is fresh in the Illinois players’ minds, and they will do everything in their power to ensure nothing like that happens again. Chances are that tomorrow’s game will be much more difficult to win than last week. If the Wolverines start panicking, they will make more mental mistakes and give Illinois hope that it can pull off the upset. But, if the Wolverines maintain their composure and play their game, they should be able to show that they are the superior team and build a comfortable lead over time. And I believe that is exactly what will happen.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Illinois 64

Big Ten power rankings: Week 10

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

As the Big Ten regular season wrapped up on Sunday Michigan was able to sit back and relax having wrapped up the outright conference title by three games and the number one seed in this week’s tournament. The Wolverines will face the winner of the last two teams they faced to close the season, Illinois and Indiana, in the quarterfinals on Friday. The rest of the tournament bracket can be found here

As the conference heads to Indianapolis to battle it out for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, we took another look at the power rankings.

1. Michigan (23-7, 15-3)  Even
Last week: Mar. 4 W at Illinois 84-53, Mar. 8 W vs Indiana 84-80
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (8) Indiana or (9) Illinois 12pm ESPN/ESPN2

Michigan finished off an incredible conference season by outlasting Indiana on senior night. Jordan Morgan went out with a bang, recording his first double-double of the season and keeping the Wolverines alive early with critical offensive rebounds. The Big Ten outright champions earned the top seed in the conference tournament after running away from the pack and finishing three games ahead of second-place Wisconsin and Michigan State. 

2. Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W at Indiana 60-50, Mar. 9 W vs #9 Wisconsin 77-68
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (5) Ohio State or (12) Purdue 2:25pm ESPN/ESPN2

In its biggest game of the season Sunday, Nebraska beat Wisconsin to finish the year with a league-best 15-1 home record. Incredibly, the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and landed just one game out of second place. 

3. Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W vs Purdue 76-70, Mar. 9 L at Nebraska 68-77
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (7) Minnesota or (10) Penn State 6:30pm BTN

Bo Ryan’s Badgers had their eyes set on a prize outside the Big Ten: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A nine-point loss to Nebraska seemingly eliminated Wisconsin from that discussion, but it still earned the second seed in the conference tournament after an 8-1 finish.

4. Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 6 W vs #24 Iowa 86-76, Mar. 9 L at Ohio State 67-69
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (6) Iowa or (11) Northwestern 8:55pm BTN

Michigan State looked like it was back on track after a win over Iowa on senior night. However, a loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale dropped the Spartans to just 5-7 in their last 12 games and 1-2 since sending a healthy starting lineup back on the court.

5. Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs #22 Michigan State 69-67
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (12) Purdue 2:25pm BTN

At the beginning of the conference schedule, Sunday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game looked like a potential shootout for the regular season championship. In reality, the game meant very little to the final Big Ten standings. But Aaron Craft did get a win on senior night, and the Buckeyes just barely managed to finish above .500 in the conference.

6. Illinois (18-13, 7-11) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 4 L vs #12 Michigan 53-84, Mar. 8 W at #24 Iowa 66-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (8) Indiana 12pm BTN

John Groce’s team could’ve thrown in the towel after a nine-game losing streak planted it firmly in last place. Instead, the Illini rallied and won four of their last five games, all of which were against NCAA Tournament hopefuls (Minnesota is the only non-lock at this point).

7. Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) • Up 2
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs Penn State 81-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (10) Penn State 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota put itself into a very tough position heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Losses in nine of 14 games put Minnesota on the outside of the tournament bubble looking in with just a home game against Penn State left. The Gophers did what they had to do, blowing out the Nittany Lions 81-63, but it still may not be enough.

8. Iowa (22-11, 9-9) • Down 2
Last week: Mar. 6 L at #22 Michigan State 76-86, Mar. 8 L vs Illinois 63-66
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (11) Northwestern 8:55pm ESPN2

Near the midway point of the season, Iowa was ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll and competing for a Big Ten championship. After five losses in its final six games, this team is reeling at the worst possible time. Iowa drew a favorable matchup in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, facing a Northwestern team that it beat by 26 points — twice.

9. Indiana (17-14, 7-11) • Down 5
Last week: Mar. 5 L vs Nebraska 60-70, Mar. 8 L at #12 Michigan 80-84
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (9) Illinois 12pm BTN

The preseason top-25 Hoosiers know there’s only one route to the Big Dance now: winning the conference tournament. Indiana dropped its last two games to land in the No. 8 slot in Indianapolis and a matchup against the streaking Fighting Illini.

10. Penn State (15-16, 6-12) • Even
Last week: Mar. 6 W at Northwestern 59-32, Mar. 9 L at Minnesota 63-81
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (7) Minnesota 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota waxed Penn State in the final road game for the Nittany Lions, but they still managed to finish the conference season with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games after losing the first six. Penn State drew a rematch against the Gophers in the first round Thursday — a chance to strengthen its NIT resume.

11. Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 6 L vs Penn State 32-59, Mar. 9 W at Purdue 74-65
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (6) Iowa 8:55pm ESPN2

Northwestern quietly earned a big road win on Sunday to stay out of the cellar and finish 11th in the Big Ten. The Wildcats held much higher expectations after a 5-5 start, but a seven-game losing streak put any hopes of contending quickly to rest.

12. Purdue (15-16, 5-3) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 L at #9 Wisconsin 70-76, Mar. 9 L vs Northwestern 65-74
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (5) Ohio State 2:25pm BTN

Matt Painter’s team sure hit rock bottom this season. After nearly dethroning the first-place Michigan Wolverines two weeks ago, Purdue had its heart ripped out and lost its three final games. The Boilermakers finished the season by losing 11 of 13 games, including the final six.

Orange crushed: Michigan 84 – Illinois 53

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Big Ten champions post-Illinois

The Michigan basketball team entered last night’s matchup at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. with a monumental opportunity. Win the game, and the Big Ten championship was theirs and theirs alone for the first time since any player on this team was born — the first time since 1986, to be exact.

Win the game, and one of the biggest goals this team has had all season is reached.

Win the game, and the target on their back grows even bigger.

Illinois came into the game with reason to fight just as hard, however. After a brutal stretch of eight straight losses in January and February and 10 losses in 11 games, the Fighting Illini had finally started to right the ship with three straight wins – all over teams with a shot at dancing later this month and all by holding their opponents to fewer than 50 points.

A win over Michigan, and Illinois would have seven conference wins, 18 overall wins, and perhaps a shot at creeping their way back onto the tournament bubble.

That shot left the building about nine minutes after tip, just as Zak Irvin was drilling Michigan’s fifth three of the night to put the Wolverines up by double digits. Illinois would cut the lead to fewer than 10 points only twice the rest of the night, and not once after Spike Albrecht rained down another three, Michigan’s seventh of the night, at the 8:36 mark of the first half.

Michigan’s lead ballooned to 19 points one minute later on a Michael Jordanesque breakaway, double-clutch dunk by Glenn Robinson III. And with a buzzer-beating, 32-foot three from Nik Stauskas – his fourth of the half and the team’s 11th – the Maize and Blue held a 52-30 lead leaving Illinois wishing there was a mercy rule to be found somewhere in the rule books.

Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the Wolverines silenced any remaining critics on Tuesday night (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the Wolverines silenced any remaining critics on Tuesday night (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

When more fireworks came to an end in the second half, the scoreboard, incredibly still functioning, read 84-53 in favor of the visitors — the Victors — and the outright 2013-14 Big Ten Champions.

The shooting discrepancy in this blowout was something for the ages. While Michigan merely tied a school record with 16 threes on the night – their last made with 2:23 to play and the walk-ons at the scorers’ table – they did manage to hand Illinois their largest ever loss at Assembly Hall and outshoot the Illini by 58.5 percent from downtown.

Stauskas, perhaps preparing for the tournaments to come while reminiscing about Michigan’s lopsided win over Florida in last year’s tournament to make the Final Four, made a career-high seven three-pointers on just nine attempts and led all scorers with 24 points on the night. Three other Wolverines, Irvin, Albrecht, and Caris LeVert, hit at least two triples apiece and two more, Robinson III and Derrick Walton, Jr., added to the fun with one each.

After such an incredibly noncompetitive game that was so important to both teams, there’s not much to say. Michigan was far and away the better team last night and seems to be separating itself from the rest of the pack. A one-seed is in the bag for the Big Ten Tournament starting next Thursday (with Michigan tipping off on Friday) and a two-seed in the Big Dance is a very real possibility with Syracuse and Creighton falling again last night.

If Michigan continues to shoot as well as they did in their Big Ten-clincher, the Wolverines simply cannot be beaten by anyone in March. Of course that’s a big if, but I sure won’t be the one to doubt this team’s potential.

The narrative has been beaten to death, set on fire, and tossed into the dumpster, but I think it bears repeating one last time (okay, maybe it will come out again at the end of the year too.). Michigan, a team that lost the National Player of the Year and another first-round guard – both of whom left before their eligibility was up – from last year, and without an injured preseason All-American center, has wrapped up an outright Big Ten championship with relative ease. Oh, and with one of the youngest rosters in the country — the 17th youngest to be exact.

This season, this group of players, has been remarkable to watch, but remarkable is a word that’s also been worn out by these Wolverines’ accomplishments. I just can’t find the words in my lexicon to put it any other way.

Michigan, once left for dead by the national media – not even given a chance at making the NCAA tournament – is Big Ten champs.

The transformation this team has made from early November to today is scary, and the successes have been nearly uncountable. But you know what’s even scarier for the rest of college basketball? Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
24 points (8-of-11 FG, 7-of-9 3PT, 1-of-2 FT), two assists, two rebounds, zero turnovers in 31 minutes

**Caris LeVert**
15 points (5-of-9 FG, 2-of-3 3PT, 3-of-6 FT), four rebounds, one assist, one steal, two turnovers in 26 minutes

*Glenn Robinson III*
13 points (5-of-9 FG, 1-of-3 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), five rebounds (one offensive), one assist, two steals, two turnovers in 34 minutes

Quick Hitters

 Jordan Morgan was taken out of the game at the 7:25 mark of the second half after suffering an apparent tailbone bruise while attempting to take a charge and did not return. The injury did not appear to be too serious, as the fifth-year senior remained on the bench and on a stationary bike throughout the night, but any missed time would be devastating to Michigan’s next goals of winning the Big Ten Tournament, making the Final Four, and winning a national championship. Without Mitch McGary, Michigan has had to rely on Morgan and Jon Horford to split time down low, and the next remaining option, Max Bielfeldt, is not quite on the same level.

 With the win last night and a win over Indiana on Saturday, Michigan will have beaten every Big Ten team at least once in the same season for the first time since 1992 and would have 15 wins for the first time since 1993.

 In a game when rebounding was pretty much made worthless by Michigan’s hyper-efficiency, Jon Horford came out with 10 boards (one offensive) for the first time since Michigan’s win over South Carolina State on November 12.

 Trey Burke had a lot of fun watching and tweeting about the game last night and shared a couple observations:


Final Game Stats
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-9 1-3 2-2 1 4 5 1 13 1 2 0 2 34
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-5 1-1 4-4 2 5 7 1 9 5 0 0 1 26
11 Nik Stauskas* 8-11 7-9 1-2 0 2 2 0 24 2 0 0 0 31
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-4 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 4 1 0 0 0 7
23 Caris LeVert* 5-9 2-3 3-6 0 4 4 3 15 1 2 0 1 26
02 Spike Albrecht 2-2 2-2 0-0 0 1 1 0 6 3 2 0 0 15
05 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
14 Brad Anlauf 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
15 Jon Horford 1-3 0-0 0-0 1 9 10 2 2 1 0 1 0 28
20 Sean Lonergan 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 2
21 Zak Irvin 3-6 3-5 0-0 0 2 2 2 9 1 2 0 1 22
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 5
Totals 29-51 16-23 10-14 4 29 33 12 84 15 10 1 5 200
Illinois 20-52 2-18 11-16 5 18 23 14 53 7 8 0 4 200
Full Stats

Derick’s 3 thoughts: Illinois

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Michigan-Illinois header

Illinois hosts Michigan on Tuesday night in a game that could wrap up the Big Ten title race and give the Wolverines their first outright regular season championship since 1986. Michigan leads both the wounded Michigan State Spartans and the charging Wisconsin Badgers by two games, so only an unlikely 0-2 finish can open the door for the Wolverines’ opponents now.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for tonight’s battle in Champaign.

Make it a half dozen: Illinois is one of the few teams that Michigan has dominated easily under John Beilein. In fact, the Wolverines ride a five-game winning streak against the Illini into tonight’s game, including victories in Champaign each of the past two seasons.

Just a few weeks ago, the matchup with Illinois looked like a cakewalk. The last-place Fighting Illini had lost 10 of 11 games, including five straight at home. Now, Groce’s team seems to have found its groove and boasts a three-game winning streak after shocking Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday.

In order to get its sixth win in a row over Illinois, Michigan can’t take this game lightly. Illinois considers Michigan its most hated conference rival and would like nothing more than to delay the Maize and Blue’s conference championship celebrations.

John Groce has his Illini on a three-game winning streak, holding opponents to just 48 points per game during that span (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

John Groce has his Illini on a three-game winning streak, holding opponents to just 48 points per game during that span (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Groce found little satisfaction in facing Michigan during his first Big Ten season, as Beilein’s crew spanked Illinois by a combined 27 points in two games. That’s not the only experience the 42-year old boasts against Michigan, however, as his upset win as the coach of the Ohio Bobcats in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament essentially landed him the job at Illinois.

Stop worrying about the offense: Ever since Michigan’s loss in Iowa City two weeks ago, the team has struggled to play inspired basketball from the opening tip. Slow starts have become the Wolverines’ proverbial kryptonite after six straight games began with double-digit deficits.

Settle down, everybody, Michigan is going to be just fine.

Remember that despite those difficult first halves, Michigan finished the stretch 4-2 with wins over both Michigan State and Ohio State. The ability to come out of a stretch that featured four top-25 teams that led the Wolverines by 10 or more with two victories says more about the team’s potential than it does to reveal some fatal flaw.

What seems to be the problem? Early in games Michigan thinks too much about the offense. Many possessions early in the game look pre-constructed and lack flow. During the 10-game winning streak that put Michigan in position to win the conference championship, the offense essentially ran itself. Over-examining its performance on the offensive end puts Michigan on its heels defensively, and players like Denzel Valentine and Lenzelle Smith Jr. take advantage of wide-open opportunities.

Michigan’s offense features explosive players like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, two guys that possess an inherent ability to score. They should focus on stopping Illinois on defense and let the offense come naturally.

Run, and don’t stop for 40 minutes: No matter how well Illinois played in its last three games, the season statistics don’t lie: Groce’s offensive strategy simply doesn’t work. Illinois ranks outside the top 300 nationally in points per games and field goal percentage. For a Big Ten team with a 17-12 overall record, those statistics are absolutely staggering.

Heading into tonight’s game against Michigan, Illinois has scored more than 70 points just one time in the past 14 games (an 81-74 loss to Iowa on Feb. 1). In the three Big Ten games in which they scored more than 70 points, the Fighting Illini own a 2-1 record with both wins coming in the first two conference games of the season.

Michigan, on the other hand, eclipsed 70 points 10 times in its first 16 conference games, including a seven-game stretch in which it more than doubled the number of times Illinois accomplished the feat in just 25 days (Jan. 5-30).

Clearly, Illinois can’t compete with Big Ten competition when the score approaches this height, and as a result, Michigan represents a tough matchup on Tuesday. If Michigan pushes the tempo and makes Illinois play a high-scoring game, it can exploit the thin offensive arsenal of Groce and run all the way to an outright Big Ten championship.

Prediction: Michigan’s golden opportunity to shock the Midwest comes to fruition on Tuesday night. While Illinois has won three straight games against potential NCAA Tournament teams coming into the only matchup of the season, too much is at stake for Michigan to overlook the 6-10 Fighting Illini. The Wolverines will make things official with a 73-60 Big Ten championship-clinching win.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.

While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.

So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.

1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3)  Even
Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56
This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm 

The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday. 

2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm 

History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now. 

3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47
This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm

Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).

4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64
This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm

Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.

5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46
This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm

John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.

6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm

When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.

7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3
Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53
This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm

All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.

8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5
Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72
This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS

The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.

9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66
This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm

Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.

10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71
This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm

Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.

11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83
This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm

Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.

12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even
Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54
This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm

Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.

Michigan hoops preview: Illinois

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Michigan vs Illinois banner
#12/12 Michigan (21-7, 13-3) vs Illinois (17-12, 6-10)
Tuesday, Mar. 4 | Champaign, Ill. | 7 p.m. EST | ESPN
74.9 Points/gm 65.1
(726-1,521) 47.7 Field Goal % 40.7 (664-1,630)
(232-597) 38.9 3-pt FG % 32.3 (179-555)
(412-544) 75.7 Free Throw % 72.5 (380-524)
14.7 FT Made/gm 13.1
32.5 Reb/gm 34.4
14.6 Assists/gm 10.2
9.5 Turnovers/gm 10.6
65.1 Points/gm 62.0
(676-1,541) 43.9 Field Goal % 41.4 (636-1,535)
(163-491) 33.2 3-pt FG % 32.8 (170-519)
31.2 Opp. Reb/gm 33.9
5.1 Steals/gm 6.2
2.5 Blocks/gm 3.9
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.1), Caris LeVert (13.4) Points/gm Rayvonte Rice (15.8), Tracy Abrams (10.9)
Jordan Morgan (4.5), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Rayvonte Rice (6.0), Nnanna Egwu (6.0)


Michigan clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title with a win over Minnesota on Saturday and can now clinch the sole title with a win over either Illinois or Indiana. The Maize and Blue would rather get it over with on Tuesday night as opposed to waiting until Saturday, especially since Indiana has been a thorn in Michigan’s side the past couple of years.

Illinois comes in with a three game winning streak, including a 53-46 victory at Michigan State on Saturday that helped Michigan clinch the conference title. Can the Illini continue their late-season surge, or will Michigan keep rolling along and lock up its first outright title since 1986? Let’s take a look.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Rayvonte Rice (G) 32.7 15.8 41.8 32.8 71.5 6.0 1.5 1.5 0.3 1.6
Tracy Abrams (G) 29.4 10.9 34.4 27.0 75.8 3.3 3.2 1.9 0.2 1.2
Nnanna Egwu (F/C) 29.1 6.9 41.4 21.7 80.0 6.0 0.4 1.2 2.2 0.3
Kendrick Nunn (G) 17.4 5.8 43.8 40.3 83.3 1.5 1.1 1.0 0.2 0.6
Malcolm Hill (G) 12.8 4.2 39.1 30.3 80.0 2.3 0.6 0.9 0.1 0.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Joseph Bertrand (G) 26.6 9.2 47.9 40.9 67.1 4.3 0.7 1.8 0.0 0.7
Jon Ekey (F) 26.7 7.3 39.1 35.3 75.0 5.2 0.2 0.5 0.3 0.9
Jaylon Tate (G) 13.2 2.0 26.4 04.5 65.5 1.0 2.0 1.0 0.1 0.5
Maverick Morgan (C) 7.5 1.5 59.4 00.0 66.7 1.3 0.1 0.4 0.3 0.1

Rayvonte Rice is the main scorer for Illinois, averaging 15.8 points per game, but head coach John Groce seems to have found a lineup that is getting better results. Since inserting freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup against Penn State on Feb. 9, the Illini are 4-2. They have averaged a combined 19.8 points per game during those six. Nunn himself scored 19 against both Penn State and Minnesota on a combined 14-of-26 shooting and 9-of-16 three-point shooting. 

The freshmen replaced Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, who have combined to average 16.5 points per game throughout the course of the season, and while their minutes have been slashed to 20 or fewer per contest, the net result has been positive for the Illini. 

Inside, Groce relies on 6’11″, 250-pound junior Nnanna Egwu. The big man averages 6.9 points and six rebounds per game. While not a huge scorer, he ranks second in the Big Ten with 2.2 blocks and third with 2.5 offensive rebounds per game. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 Alabama State W 80-63
Nov. 10 Jacksonville State W 86-62
Nov. 13 Valparaiso W 64-52
Nov. 17 Bradley W 81-55
Nov. 22 Chicago State W 77-53
Nov. 26 at UNLV W 61-59
Nov. 29 IPFW W 57-55
Dec. 3 at Georgia Tech# L 64-67
Dec. 8 Auburn W 81-62
Dec. 10 Dartmouth W 72-65
Dec. 14 #15 Oregon L 64-71
Dec. 21 #23 Missouri W 65-64
Dec. 28 UIC W 74-60
Dec. 31 Indiana W 83-80 OT
Jan. 4 Penn State W 75-55
Jan. 8 at #4 Wisconsin W 70-95
Jan. 12 at Northwestern L 43-49
Jan. 15 Purdue L 58-66
Jan. 18 #4 Michigan State L 62-78
Jan. 23 at #17 Ohio State L 55-62
Jan. 26 at Indiana L 46-56
Feb. 1 #15 Iowa L 74-81
Feb. 4 Wisconsin L 63-75
Feb. 9 at Penn State W 60-55
Feb. 12 at Nebraska L 58-67
Feb. 15 #22 Ohio State L 39-48
Feb. 19 at Minnesota W 62-49
Feb. 26 Nebraska W 60-49
Mar. 1 at #18 Michigan State W 53-46
#Big Ten/ACC Challenge

As mentioned above, Illinois comes in with its longest winning streak since the start of the new year — three games — and has won four of its last six following an eight-game losing streak. During the current three-game winning streak, the Illini have gotten it done with defense, holding Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State to an average of just 48 points and none of the three topped 50. Include the loss to Ohio State prior to the start of the streak and that’s four straight opponents held below 50 points. By comparison, Michigan’s lowest scoring output of the season was 52 at Indiana on Feb. 2.

Even over the course of the season Illinois has produced the Big Ten’s second best scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 62 points per game. However, opponents are shooting 41.4 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three-point range, both of which rank sixth in the conference. Per Kenpom, the Illini adjusted defense ranks 14th nationally at 93.2 points per 100 possessions.

The issue for John Groce’s squad is scoring. Illinois ranks 11th in the Big Ten with 65.1 points per game and 198th nationally per Kenpom. The Illini shoot 40.7 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from downtown, figures that rank 11th and 10th, respectively, in the conference.

In the loss to Ohio State on Feb. 15 Illinois scored just 39 points and made only 18-of-53 shots from the field. And that was against a Buckeye team without Aaron Craft for much of the first half after he picked up two early fouls. During the eight-game losing streak, Illinois averaged just under 59 points per contest and had games of 43 against Northwestern and 46 against Indiana.

Michigan, on the other hand, ranks sixth in the conference in scoring defense and last in field goal percentage defense. The Wolverines have allowed big performances by individual players several times recently — Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble, and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. That could be good news for the only Illinois player in the conference top 25 in scoring, Rayvonte Rice.

Rice ranks eighth in the conference with 15.8 points per game, but his offensive rating per Kenpom ranks 39th in the conference among all players at 107.9, trailing Jordan Morgan (126.1), Nik Stauskas (123.9), Caris LeVert (112.9), and Glenn Robinson III (112.1). Derrick Walton Jr. has the same offensive rating but with about seven percent fewer possessions used.

The Series

Michigan leads the all-time series 85-76 and has won the past five meetings. However, the Wolverines are just 25-55 all-time at Illinois. Last season, Michigan won 74-60 at the State Farm Center and 71-58 at home. This is their only meeting of the 2013-14 regular season.

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Week 2

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

1. Michigan State (15-1, 4-0) Even
Last week: Jan. 7 W vs #3 Ohio State 72-68 OT, Jan. 11 W vs Minnesota 87-75 OT
This week: Wednesday at Northwestern 7pm on BTN

The Spartans have remained undefeated in the Big Ten by winning their previous two games in overtime at the Breslin Center. Though the performance against Minnesota was less impressive, the victory over Ohio State is enough to make Michigan State the frontrunner through two weeks.

2. Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0) • Even
Last week: Jan. 8 W vs #23 Illinois 95-70
This week: Tuesday at Indiana 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Michigan 6pm

As the highest ranked team in the conference, Wisconsin has taken down a couple of top 25 Big Ten teams in its past two games. A comeback win over Iowa was followed by a 25-point dismantling of Illinois in which Bo Ryan’s team scored an uncharacteristic 95 points. Wisconsin is dangerous in 2014.

3. Iowa (14-3, 3-1) • Up 2
Last week: Jan. 8 W vs Northwestern 93-67, Jan. 12 W at #3 Ohio State 84-74
This week: Sunday vs Minnesota 1pm BTN

Iowa has had a brutal early Big Ten schedule, travelling to both Madison and Columbus to play top 5 teams. After blowing a second half lead against the Badgers, the Hawkeyes came up with the best win in the conference so far by beating the Buckeyes on the road. Iowa’s offense ranking in the top 10 nationally in points, rebounds and assists per game.

4. Michigan (11-4, 3-0) • Even
Last week: Jan. 9 W at Nebraska 71-70
This week: Tuesday vs Penn State 8pm BTN, Saturday at #3 Wisconsin 6pm

The Wolverines have had a cakewalk of a conference schedule so far, playing three teams with a combined 3-9 Big Ten record. A close call in Lincoln proved just how deadly this conference can be in road games, so the 2-0 record away from Ann Arbor is a welcome start for a McGary-less Michigan team.

5. Ohio State (15-2, 2-2) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 7 L at #5 Michigan State 68-72 OT, Jan. 12 L vs #20 Iowa 74-84
This week: Thursday at Minnesota 9pm ESPN2

After starting the season win 15 wins, the Big Ten schedule has hit Ohio State in the mouth. Michigan State won a hard-fought battle in East Lansing after Aaron Craft led a strong fourth quarter comeback to force overtime. Just five days later, Iowa walked into Columbus and stunned Thad Matta’s team, which now sits at just 2-2.

6. Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 8 W at Penn State 68-65, Jan. 11 L at #5 Michigan State 75-87 OT
This week: Thursday vs #11 Ohio State 9pm ESPN2, Sunday at #14 Iowa 1pm

Minnesota has looked shaky since the start of Big Ten play, winning two games over Penn State and Purdue by three points each. On the other hand, both losses have come to undefeated Big Ten teams, one by just three points and one in overtime on the road. All signs point to the Gophers playing to the level of their competition, which makes this team dangerous late in the season, but will keep it from contending for the conference title.

7. Northwestern (8-9, 1-3) • Up 5
Last week: Jan. 9 L at #20 Iowa 67-93, Jan. 12 W vs #23 Illinois 49-43
This week: Wednesday vs #4 Michigan State 7pm BTN, Saturday at Indiana 2:30pm

Chris Collins’ team came from nowhere to upset No. 23 Illinois and get its first Big Ten win Sunday. After losing their first three conference games by 27, 23 and 26, the Wildcats held Illinois to just 43 points in Evanston.

8. Purdue (11-5, 1-2) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 12 W vs Nebraska 70-64
This week: Wednesday at Illinois 9pm BTN, Saturday vs Penn State 7pm

Purdue has a losing record early in Big Ten play, but single-digit losses to Ohio State and Minnesota suggest that Matt Painter has his team of Johnsons ready to play this season. A 10-3 non-conference finish was a success, too.

9. Illinois (10-5, 0-2) • Down 3
Last week: Jan. 8 L at #3 Wisconsin 70-95, Jan. 12 L at Northwestern 43-49
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Saturday vs #4 Michigan State 8pm

Through 17 games, Illinois ranks outside the top 290 teams nationally in both assists per game and field goal percentage. What does that mean? The team doesn’t make good decisions. Illinois seems to impress the country each year during the non-conference schedule only to struggle through the tough Big Ten slate. After being embarrassed by Wisconsin and losing a laugher to Northwestern, John Groce’s team appears to be heading down that same path in 2014.

10. Indiana (11-5, 1-2) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 11 W at Penn State 79-76
This week: Tuesday vs #3 Wisconsin 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Northwestern 2:30pm

Easily the most disappointing team in the Big Ten so far is Indiana. The Hoosiers have yet to put a complete game together after losing to both Illinois and Michigan State and squeaking out a three point win against the Nittany Lions. A home game against Wisconsin tonight offers a chance to turn things around in a big way.

11. Nebraska (8-8, 0-4) • Even
Last week: Jan. 9 L vs Michigan 70-71, Jan. 12 L at Purdue 64-70
This week: None (Jan. 20 vs #11 Ohio State)

Nebraska is much closer to being competitive than it was last season. Three of the four Big Ten losses so far have come by 10 or less points. Three missed layups in the final seconds against Michigan snatched away the chance to open the new Pinnacle Bank Arena with a Big Ten win.

12. Penn State (9-8, 0-4) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 8 L vs Minnesota 65-68, Jan. 11 L vs Indiana 76-79
This week: Tuesday at Michigan 8pm BTN, Saturday at Purdue 7pm

Unfortunately for Penn State, the return of star guard Tim Frazier has done little to make the team more successful. Eight losses, including the first four of Big Ten play have Penn State sitting at 9-8 halfway through the season.