Chicago Colleges: 2013 NCAA Tournament

The state of the Big Ten

November, 5, 2013

In recent years, the Big Ten has boasted an assembly of athletes who have boosted the league to the top of college basketball’s conference rankings.

Players who could’ve turned pro returned and granted the league a lineup of experienced players who carried their respective squads for multiple seasons. Evan Turner, Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Draymond Green, Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others had opportunities to sign NBA contracts a year or two earlier than they did. Instead, they stayed and strengthened their teams and subsequently, the entire conference.

Prior to changes at Minnesota and Northwestern this past offseason, only four of the 12 Big Ten schools (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State) had changed head coaches in the previous five seasons. That continuity has fueled immense success for a league that has earned 20 total bids in the last three NCAA tournaments.

There are, however, more questions now.

Other than Michigan State, the Big Ten’s membership enters the season possessing promise but also dealing with a rare uncertainty. Michigan and Ohio State return elite talent, but you can’t ignore what both lost from last season. Indiana could blossom behind some youngsters, but how many teams improve after a pair of top-five picks turn pro? A fleet of seniors have left Madison. Iowa is still a “maybe” to many.

Illinois and Purdue? They’ll either surprise or spend the year at the bottom of the league.

Even with four teams cracking the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll, the Big Ten is somewhat of a mystery as this weekend’s tipoff to the 2013-14 season approaches. Still, there’s plenty of hope for many squads in this league.

There’s just a lot we don’t know (yet) about the Big Ten.

The Contenders

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
AP Photo/Andy ManisTom Izzo has a Michigan State team with enough talent to return to the Final Four.
Michigan State: Tom Izzo has another capable crew in East Lansing this season. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling anchor the Big Ten favorite and national title contender. Gary Harris is a future lottery pick who could campaign for All-American honors. Whenever Izzo has this much talent and experience, his teams usually reach the Final Four.

Michigan: The answer is no. No, the Wolverines won’t replace Wooden Award winner Burke no matter how productive Derrick Walton Jr. is in his freshman season. But John Beilein’s pillars -- Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary -- and his stellar recruits should give Michigan State a serious shot at the Big Ten crown.

Ohio State: Somehow, Aaron Craft is still eligible and available to squash the dreams of perimeter players throughout the country. Without Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes will probably spread the ball around more than they did last season. But LaQuinton Ross -- assuming we see the same player who lit up the Big Dance a few months ago -- might be the star Thad Matta needs to make a postseason run and snatch another Big Ten crown.

The (Possible) Contenders

Indiana: If exhibitions are to be believed, then Yogi Ferrell has become a more dangerous threat from the field since registering a 45.4 effective field goal percentage last season. That matters, but not as much as the maturation of the rest of the roster does (will). How much production will Noah Vonleh and a bunch of inexperienced youngsters give Tom Crean? We’ll find out soon.

Wisconsin: Say it with me three times: “I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin.” Once again, however, there are a few reasons to doubt the Badgers, simply because they’re entering the season without a trio of seniors (Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren) who made a major difference last season, and they’re depending on a point guard who's returning from a serious knee injury (Josh Gasser). Sam Dekker and Co. will probably maintain Bo Ryan’s streak of 20-win seasons (10 in a row) and top-four finishes in the Big Ten.

Iowa: The rebuilding phase is over, folks. The Hawkeyes return every meaningful player from a team that won 25 games and finished 9-9 in conference play during the 2012-13 season. It’s time for Iowa to finally make some noise in the Big Ten race and get back to the NCAA tourney. Fran McCaffery has the pieces to achieve both.

The Questionable

Purdue: The last thing Matt Painter needed was a bout of early drama involving young star A.J. Hammons. But that’s exactly what he’s facing after Hammons was recently suspended for three games after violating team rules. If Hammons gets his act together -- it’s always if with him -- the Boilermakers could sneak into the at-large mix.

Illinois: Same for John Groce’s squad. Groce adds eight new faces to the program. This is a much different team compared to the one that reached the NCAA tournament last year. But if Groce can help transfer Rayvonte Rice become the star he was at Drake two seasons ago, Illinois might make a case for another berth.

The Bottom

Minnesota: Richard Pitino has his father’s last name and hair, but nothing resembling the players Rick Pitino used to win the national title with Louisville in April.

Northwestern: Chris Collins is already making strides in recruiting, but he doesn’t have the beef inside to compete in the Big Ten yet.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a new arena, but Tim Miles’ squad has the same problems.

Penn State: Tim Frazier will have to carry a very heavy load. Again.

Jamall Walker suspended for 2 games

August, 16, 2013
Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker has received a two-game tournament suspension and a public reprimand from the Division I men's basketball committee for his misconduct following the Illini's loss to Miami in the NCAA tournament last season.

The NCAA's release said Walker made "inappropriate contact" with a game official and "verbally confronted" the game officials and a police officer following the game March 24.

Read the entire story.

Rapid Reaction: Miami 63, Illinois 59

March, 24, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- The one-time, small-time coach is back in the big time.

Jim Larranaga, who last made a significant NCAA tournament run at George Mason in 2006, has led the second-seeded Miami Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 with a 63 -59 win over No. 7 Illinois at the Frank Erwin Center Sunday.

Overview: In a game that went back and forth throughout the second half, Miami found just enough offense from Shane Larkin to pull away late. With Miami down one, Larkin hit a step-back 3-pointer to put the Hurricanes ahead for good with one minute left.

Turning Point: Illinois had the chance to go up by two inside of two minutes and possibly put some pressure on Miami but Tracy Abrams missed the second of two free throws, allowing the Hurricanes some measure of comfort as they went down the floor for what was the game-winning shot.

Key Player: Larkin not only hit the big shot at the end of the game but proved his value as a point guard all night. The sophomore was consistently able to penetrate, draw and dish to his teammates. And when the Illini didn't cut off the lane Larkin was comfortable finding his shot among taller players. He finished with 17 points and five assists.

Key Stat: The Illini were able to hang in the game because they kept the Hurricanes off the offensive glass. In fact it was Illinois that thrived, getting 19 second-chance points to Miami's eight. Nnanna Egwu led the way with 12 boards for Illinois.

Next Up: Miami will play No. 3 Marquette in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Somewhere lost in all the pomp, circumstance, inspirational montages and endless car commercials of the NCAA tournament is the little secret someone forgot to mention to Colorado and Illinois -- in order to win, you must put the ball in the basket with at least a modicum of regularity.

That's not to say the seventh-seeded Illini and No. 10 seed Buffaloes missed all their shots. But each did miss enough -- 11 straight for CU to end the first half; 14 in a row, including 11 3-pointers, for the Illini at the start of the second half -- to build unnecessary and frustrating drama into a game that could have been void of both. (Apparently it is in the contract of both teams that, since this is March, they must provide some madness. And boy, were the coaches plenty red in the face.)

But, finally, the drama came to a close, along with Colorado's season, as Illinois' 16-point lead -- built during CU's horrid shooting stretch -- was enough to withstand a 23-2 Buffaloes run -- made possible by the Illini's putrid shooting stretch -- to eke out a 57-49 win in the second round on Friday.

"It's easy to come back. It is hard to come back and win,'' CU coach Tad Boyle said. "Our scoring droughts are tough to deal with. We played well enough to win today. We just didn't play well enough down the stretch to win.''

It's hard to say Illinois (23-12) played well enough to win, either. The Illini shot 13 percent in the second half. But they pulled it out at the end.

[+] EnlargeTracy Abrams
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTracy Abrams scored 13 for Illinois on 4-of-10 shooting, and added 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
"It was only fitting that the game was maybe as strange a game -- as far as the ebb and flow of it -- that I have been associated with this group,'' said Illinois coach John Groce. "We have done it the hard way with this group a lot.''

"We just find ways,'' said Illinois guard Tracy Abrams.

Now it is time for Illinois to try to find a way to win against Miami, which appears to be about as intimidating as Tony Montana. The Illini get the No. 2 seeded Hurricanes here in Austin on Sunday. So they get to deal with size -- three players of 6-foot-10 or better in the rotation; speed -- Shane Larkin moves like mercury on marble; and an experienced coach -- Jim Larranaga has been there, done that, with much less talent, just a few years ago at George Mason. It appears to be a daunting task for an Illinois program that slogged through the first nine games of its Big Ten schedule at 2-7. Miami started ACC play 13-0, by the way. Oh, and the Hurricanes had a 27-point win over then-No. 1 Duke.

"I know that they have got great size and they are going to play very hard,'' Groce said.

Illinois had its win over a No. 1, too, beating Indiana 74-72 on Feb. 7. So the Fighting Illini are capable. But they also need to be held culpable for their errors. It was those errors -- all 14 of them in a row -- plus a couple of turnovers, that might leave some wondering just how big a mismatch Sunday will be. (Did anyone mention Miami won 78-49 and had nine guys score in the first half against Pacific on Friday? Well, it did.)

OK, there are a few glimmers of hope. Illini guard Brandon Paul didn't improve his shooting percentage -- he is a 40 percent guy -- but did make 9 of 10 free throws, five of which helped seal the game. In fact, for as bad as the Illini were from the field (30.8 percent), they were solid from the line (70.8 percent).

"D.J. [Richardson] was in my ear, telling me to just keeping fighting,'' Paul said.

Then there was the defense and the rebounding. Illinois has now held two tournament teams under 50 points in its past three games -- Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament and Colorado (21-12) on Friday. The Illini, despite giving up 14 rebounds to Josh Scott, were able to win the battle of the boards 37-36. And that was crucial in a game where misses were rampant -- and will be crucial again against the taller, thicker Hurricanes.

Illinois proved it could close. After failing so miserably from the field and falling behind, the Illini finished on an 18-5 run. One might say that they looked into the abyss and didn't blink. Miami looms large; if they can look at the Ibis and do the same, they just might be OK.

Illinois well represented on tourney rosters

March, 19, 2013
The state of Illinois will be represented by 41 players on the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament this year. Here’s a look at the players, including their hometowns and high schools:

Illinois sophomore guard Tracy Abrams (Chicago, Mount Carmel)
Western Kentucky freshman forward Eddie Alcantara (Chicago, Hales Franciscan)
Michigan senior guard Josh Bartelstein (Highland Park, Ill., Highland Park)
Illinois junior guard Kevin Berardini (Lake Forest, Ill., Lake Forest)
Illinois junior guard Joseph Bertrand (Sterling, Ill., Sterling)
Michigan freshman forward Max Bielfeldt (Peoria, Ill., Notre Dame)
Albany senior guard Mike Black (Chicago, Fenwick)
Louisville sophomore guard Wayne Blackshear (Chicago, Morgan Park)
Bucknell junior guard Ben Brackney (Lincoln, Ill., Lincoln)
Wisconsin junior guard Ben Brust (Hawthorn Woods, Ill., Mundelein)
North Carolina A&T freshman forward Corvon Butler (Champaign, Ill., Champaign Central)
Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley (Glenview, Ill., Glenbrook South)
Valparaiso junior guard LaVonte Dority (Chicago, Foreman)
Wisconsin junior forward Duje Dukan (Deerfield, Ill., Deerfield)
Illinois sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu (Chicago, St. Ignatius)
Saint Louis junior forward Dwayne Evans (Bolingbrook, Ill., Neuqua Valley)
Wisconsin senior guard Dan Fahey (Chicago, St. Ignatius)
Marquette sophomore guard Dylan Flood (Lemont, Ill., Benet)
Chicago sophomore forward Myke Henry (Chicago, Orr)
Akron sophomore guard Deji Ibitayo (Chicago, Rich Central)
Butler sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones (O’Fallon, Ill., O’Fallon)
Wisconsin sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky (Lisle, Ill., Benet)
Illinois freshman guard Mike LaTulip (Arlington Heights, Ill., Prospect)
Wisconsin freshman guard George Marshall (Chicago, Brooks)
Saint Louis junior guard Mike McCall (Chicago, Foreman)
Harvard sophomore guard Alex Nesbitt (Chicago, University of Chicago Lab School)
Kansas State freshman guard Michael Orris (Crete, Ill., Crete-Monee)
Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul (Gurnee, Ill., Warren)
Illinois senior guard D.J. Richardson (Peoria, Ill., Peoria Central)
Valparaiso sophomore guard Alex Rossi (Winnetka, Ill., New Trier)
Illinois sophomore forward Mike Shaw (Chicago, De La Sale)
Memphis senior forward Stan Simpson (Chicago, Simeon)
Ohio State junior guard Lenzelle Smith (Zion, Ill., Zion-Benton)
Marquette freshman forward Steve Taylor (Chicago, Simeon)
Ohio State sophomore forward Sam Thompson (Chicago, Whitney Young)
Davidson junior guard Clay Tormey (Chicago, Henderson International)
Kansas freshman forward Jamari Traylor (Chicago, Julian)
Albany junior forward Dave Wiegmann (Breese, Ill., Breese Central)
Wichita State freshman guard Fred Van Vleet (Rockford, Ill., Auburn)
Michigan senior guard Matt Vogrich (Lake Forest, Ill., Lake Forest)
Duke senior forward Todd Zafirovski (Lake Forest, Ill., Lake Forest Academy)

Paul gives Illini a fighting chance

March, 17, 2013
CHICAGO -- Illinois coach John Groce doesn't preach patience, so it makes sense Brandon Paul wanted his "one shining moment" a week early.

In the first game of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center, Illinois and Minnesota were tied with overtime looming. Paul got the ball in an isolation against Gophers guard Austin Hollins at the top of the key, crossed him over going left and shot a fadeaway 15-footer for the win. The Illinois bench went nuts. The Illinois fans erupted. Gus Johnson went Gus.

March had officially begun.

Read the entire column.

No. 7 seed Illini to face No. 10 Colorado

March, 17, 2013
Illinois was selected Sunday to play in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed and will play No. 10-seeded Colorado in Austin, Tex. in the East region on Friday.

The Illinois-Colorado winner will play the winner of No. 2-seeded Miami and No. 15-seeded Pacific in the third round on Sunday.

“Our main goal throughout the season was just to get better every day, putting 100 percent,” Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul said. “3-19-13 (first day of the NCAA tournament) was on our wrist bands, and when we finally saw our name called it was pretty much a blessing. We were excited about it, and we were excited about the challenge ahead.”

The Illini went 22-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. Their quality wins included at Gonzaga, Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota, who they defeated twice. They are ranked No. 39 in RPI and No. 63 in ESPN’s BPI.

Colorado was 21-11 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes’ quality wins include Arizona, Baylor and Oregon. They are ranked No. 38 in RPI and No. 39 in BPI.

Illinois began the season with 12 consecutive wins and shot up to No. 10 in the AP poll. After a 13-1 non-conference season, the Illini dropped seven of their first nine Big Ten games. They bounced back with a win over No. 1-ranked Indiana on Feb. 7 and closed out the conference season winning six of their final nine games.

“They had that (tournament) goal from the very beginning when I met with (them),” Illinois' first-year coach John Groce said. “They really solidified that as something they wanted to do in the fall when we first got together and talked in particular to our seniors. To see that come to fruition in a way they had to grind it out and be really tough at different parts of the season when maybe others doubted them, but I think it’s a great life lesson for our guys. Certainly not satisfied because we have work to do, but I’m a proud for those guys.”

Groce said after Friday’s loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament he was happy with the way his team was playing headed into the NCAA tournament.

“I would like to play two complete halves defensively and offensively. But I like our mindset,” Groce said. “I like our body language. I like our passion. I thought we really competed in this tournament both days. I thought we really played hard. I thought we played for one another. I think the guys are playing the game right way. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward here in the next few days and figure out how we can put together two halves when we’re defending and playing good offense. I think that’s the next step.”

Illinois did not appear in the NCAA Tournament last season and has been selected twice in the previous five years. The Illini haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005.

Illinois fired Bruce Weber after the program failed to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. Groce was hired after taking Ohio to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012 in four seasons.
Kevin Young and David WearBrian Spurlock/US Presswire

A lot has happened in the college basketball world since mid-April. So with just two months until Midnight Madness, Joe Lunardi is back with a fresh bracket featuring just one team from the state of Illinois.

View the entire bracket here.



Saturday, 9/20
Thursday, 9/18