Chicago Colleges: Bradley Braves

College basketball: State of the state

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
4:24
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Rayvonte RiceJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesRayvonte Rice is leading the Illini in scoring this season.
Illinois college basketball has seen some dark years in the last decade.

The state didn’t place a single team in the NCAA tournament in three of the last six seasons. Only the Illinois Fighting Illini kept the state from complete embarrassment with tournament appearances as a No. 5 seed in 2009, a No. 9 seed in 2011 and a No. 7 seed last season.

The last time a state team other than the Illini made the tournament was in 2007 when Southern Illinois was still riding high. That was also the last year the state had two tournament teams. The state landed three tournament teams in 2006 with Bradley joining Illinois and Southern Illinois.

But as bad as the state has been in recent years, it’s even worse this season. The state is not only likely headed to another season without an NCAA tournament berth, but most of its teams are struggling to stay above .500 in conference. Of the 13 teams in Illinois, only Chicago State and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville have winning records in conference.

Here’s a look at the present and future for all 13 teams in the state:

Illinois (14-10, 3-8 Big Ten), last NCAA tournament appearance: 2013

Illinois was expected to return to reality after a 12-2 start, which was inflated by a win over a suspect Missouri team, but no one could have predicted the Illini’s dramatic fall. They have won twice in 2014, and both those victories came against the conference’s worst team, Penn State. Between their two wins over the Nittany Lions, the Illini suffered eight consecutive losses. Illinois is likely headed to its third consecutive season under .500 in the Big Ten and its second under coach John Groce. Lack of scoring has been Illinois’ biggest problem as of late as the Illini averaged 55.1 points during an eight-game losing streak. With even the NIT unlikely at this point, it’s best to look to next season when transfers Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul will be eligible and the arrival of Leron Black, Groce’s first top-50 recruit. The Illini will also return leading scorer Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and improving freshmen Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Expectations should be high next season.

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Braves 'sign' 2 grade-schoolers for season

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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Bradley coach Geno Ford announced Monday the signing of 5-year-old Johnah Sahrs, who has been battling life-threatening cancer, and his older brother 9-year-old Jarret Sahrs for the upcoming season.

Through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization which tries to improve the lives of children with life-threatening diseases, Bradley was connected with Johnah, who is recovering from Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that begins in the adrenal glands and is found in mostly young children. Jonah has been undergoing treatment, which has included six rounds of chemotherapy, an eight-hour surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor and stem-cell transplants, for the last 1˝ years.

“For us, it’s really an amazing opportunity,” the brothers’ mother, Kelly Belinger-Sahrs, said in a phone interview on Monday. “Johnah spent most of the last year and a half in the hospital or not able to participate in childhood activities. For him to be able to have the team’s support, to be involved not just in the community, but Bradley University, its athletics and team, it gives him something he couldn’t do a year ago. For our family, it’s a blessing.”

The brothers signed "letters of intent" on Friday at a ceremony at Bradley’s Renaissance Coliseum. They were given a tour of the facilities by Bradley players Mason Alwan, Anthony Fields, Jordan Prosser and Jordan Swopshire. The four players will serve as mentors to the brothers this season. The brothers will also have lockers with the rest of the team and have been invited to sit on the bench during practices and games.

“It was an easy thing to do, and it feels like we’re really helping the kids,” Ford said in a phone interview on Monday. “I certainly hope we are, and the kids seem to have a great time with our players. That being said, it has been at a very minimum just as good for our players as it has been for them. We’ve probably got the better end of the deal. Johnah has undergone some incredible adversities. I think it puts a lot of things in perspective for our players and coaches about what adversity can mean.”

Johnah and his family will travel to St. Jude’s in Memphis this week for another scanning. Kelly said they were hopeful there would be no traces of cancer found in Johnah’s system.

“This is a big week for us,” Kelly said.

Bradley announced in a press release, “A 3-foot-4-inch guard, Johnah Sahrs will wear uniform number 1. He becomes both the youngest and the shortest player in Bradley Basketball history. Standing 4-foot-5-inches, Jarret Sahrs will wear uniform number 32. “

Johnah’s parents, Timothy Sahrs and Kelly, have created a Facebook page to chronicle their son’s cancer battle. The Facebook page is called “Johnah's Journey: The Neuroblastoma Ninja' s Road to Recovery.”

Shaw transfering from Illinois to Bradley

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
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Illinois sophomore power forward Mike Shaw announced Tuesday he was transferring to Bradley.

Shaw, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound power forward, averaged 0.9 points, 0.8 rebounds and 3.6 minutes as a sophomore at Illinois. He will sit out next season per NCAA rules and have two years of eligibility remaining.

“I just felt comfortable with Bradley,” said Shaw, who announced he was leaving Illinois last week. “I didn’t have any intention to get it done this quick, but you just have that feeling. I like where coach (Geno) Ford is taking the program. I like the fan base. I like the school. The fact (assistant Ronald Coleman) is there also had an impact. The practice facility is off the charts.

“This feels good. I have another chance. It’s an opportunity to get better, work on my game and continue to play. It’s definitely something that’s refreshing. It’s an opportunity that not too many people get. It’s really a blessing.”

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BU's Simms-Edwards going on defensive

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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Bradley senior Dyricus Simms-Edwards got a good taste of basketball thievery at the start of the season and he’s been obsessed with it ever since.

“Even in a game, I get mad if I juggle the ball and don’t get a steal,” Simms-Edwards said.

Simms-Edwards has had plenty of games with two, three, four or five steals this year. He’s even had one of eight steals. Yet, none of them fill his craving.

“I just want to repeat it,” he said. “I just want to do it again. I want to top it.

“It definitely drives me. I want to be considered one of the best defenders in the country. I just want to leave my mark when I leave Bradley. I’ve really been thinking about that this season.”

Simms-Edwards appears headed toward achieving that goal. He’s just eclipsed 1,000 points for his career. He’s averaging 3.38 steals, which is second in the country, and with 54 steals in 16 games is near pace to break the Missouri Valley single-season steals record of 96. Finally, Simms-Edwards has been a key piece in Bradley’s program returning to a respectable level.

“Dyricus is going about it the right way,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “He was here when the program was really down. He’s been a part of some bad basketball teams. In spite of that, he’s found a way. If he can finish the last half of the year as he’s played the first half of the year, people will remember him for being one of the best to ever play here.”

Simms-Edwards’ love for defense arrived late in his career. A year ago, Ford thought Simms-Edwards was actually a liability as a defender at times.

But at the start of this season, something clicked for Simms-Edwards. He started utilizing his wingspan and strength to begin snatching the ball from opponents, and he hasn’t stopped doing it.

Simms-Edwards had three steals against Michigan. He’s had four games of four steals, two games of five steals and he swiped a career-high eight steals against Drake.

“I didn’t dream he’d get this many steals,” Ford said. “We don’t press and we don’t get out and deny and gamble. For him to get that amount of steals, it’s remarkable what he’s done.”

Western Illinois rolling: Who from the state could be dancing come March and is currently the hottest team in Illinois?

It may be a surprise to some, but the answer is Western Illinois.

Building off last year’s run to the Summit Conference championship game and a CBI tournament appearance, the Leathernecks are 13-3 overall, 5-0 in conference and are currently riding a 10-game winning streak.

And it’s been defense that has put Western Illinois in such a favorable spot. The Leathernecks rank second in the country in defense, allowing 50.8 points a game. They’ve held four opponents to under 40 points and have only allowed one team more than 70 points.

“If you play defense in any sport, you have a chance to win,” said fifth-year coach Jim Molinari. “We really take pride in defending.”

Western Illinois’ effort has been led by seniors Ceola Clark and Terrell Parks. Clark is key to the top of the defense as the point guard, and Parks, a center, is the rim protector. They’ve combined for nearly three steals and three blocks per game.

Clark, who was a granted sixth year of eligibly this season due to multiple injuries in his career, has a special place in Molinari’s heart.

“I say this to people: for our system, I don’t think there’s a guard in the country I would rather have than Ceola Clark,” Molinari said. “I would think Jim Beilein would say the same thing about Trey Burke because they like to run up and down. Because we pack our defense and play a lot of ball-screen offense like we do, I wouldn’t want any other than Ceola Clark.”

UIC, Illinois State declining: Illinois State and UIC were two of the state’s most impressive programs during the non-conference season.

Illinois State looked like a potential NCAA tournament team with a 9-3 non-conference mark and respectable losses to Louisville, Northwestern and Wyoming. UIC opened the year 9-1 and knocked off Northwestern on the road.

As of late, both programs have looked just the opposite.

Illinois State has dropped its first four Missouri Valley games. On top of that, Redbirds coach Dan Muller suspended star guard Tyler Brown indefinitely Wednesday for conduct detrimental to the team.

As for UIC, the Flames have lost five of their last six games and are 1-2 in the Horizon League. Their defense has been the problem lately. They allowed only one opponent to score 70 points in their first 10 games. Four of their last six opponents have reached that mark.

ESPNChicago.com Player of the Week: DePaul junior guard Brandon Young is doing all he can to keep the Blue Demons competitive in the Big East. He’s averaged 21.7 points, four rebounds and four assists in DePaul’s three conference games. He scored a career-high 35 points in a loss to Connecticut on Tuesday.

ESPNChicago.com Team of the Week: Northern Illinois used a true team effort to snap a five-game losing streak and defeat Miami (Ohio) 72-61 on Wednesday. The Huskies had 11 players score in the win. Aksel Bolin had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.

Ten predictions for state basketball teams

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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Brandon Paul and Drew CrawfordAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIllinois' Brandon Paul and Northwestern's Drew Crawford should be in the running for the Big Ten scoring title this season.


The college basketball season tips off on Friday, and here are my 10 predictions for the hoops year in Illinois:

1. This is finally the year for Northwestern to reach the NCAA tournament: The Wildcats don’t exactly have the star power of John Shurna, but they’re deeper than they have ever been. Depth has been one of the main reasons Northwestern has fallen just short of the tournament in the last few years. Senior swingman Drew Crawford will take over Shurna’s role and was among the Big Ten’s top scorers last season. Even without shooting guard JerShon Cobb, who is ineligible this season, Northwestern has a deep backcourt in sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski, redshirt freshman point guard Tre Demps, senior shooting guard Alex Marcotullio and senior shooting guard Reggie Hearn. Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, a 6-8 forward, gives Northwestern size and skill in the frontcourt. TCU transfer Nikola Cerina, a 6-9 forward, will help on the boards, another weakness in recent years. Plus, 7-foot, 275-pound center Alex Olah could be a legitimate difference-maker this season. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody could also turn to a few others off the bench.

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Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:10
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC. Today we focus on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley and the best of the rest.

BRADLEY

Toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 20), Michigan (Dec. 1), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: George Washington (Dec. 4)
The rest: Eastern Illinois (Nov. 9), Texas-Pan American (Nov. 12), at IUPUI (Nov. 17), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 24), at Central Michigan (Nov. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Considering it went 7-25 last season, Bradley certainly could’ve scheduled easier. South Florida will contend for a second-straight NCAA tournament berth and Michigan is a preseason top-10 team. The Braves will face Virginia Tech and either Colorado State or Portland in Vegas. George Washington won only 10 games a year ago but returns four starters.

CREIGHTON

Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 23-24), at Cal (Dec. 15), BracketBusters (TBA)
Next-toughest: North Texas (Nov. 9), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 1), Akron (Dec. 9)
The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 18), Longwood (Nov. 20), Boise State (Nov. 28), at Nebraska (Dec. 6), Tulsa (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Although it’s not as soft as last year’s, the Bluejays’ nonconference schedule is a bit underwhelming for a top-15-caliber team. They’ll be challenged by Wisconsin and either Arkansas or Arizona State in Las Vegas, and a trip to Cal won’t be easy. North Texas, Saint Joseph’s and Akron all will pose threats in Omaha and will help the RPI. But Creighton’s best nonconference game may be its BracketBusters showdown with a to-be-determined opponent in late February.

DRAKE

Toughest: DIRECTV Classic (Nov. 22-25), at Nevada (Nov. 30), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 5), vs. Iowa State (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
Next-toughest: at Detroit (Nov. 17), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: William Jewell (Nov. 10), IPFW (Dec. 8), North Carolina Central (Dec. 19), Eastern Illinois (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Kudos to coach Mark Phelps for building one of the conference’s most challenging nonconference schedules. The Bulldogs travel to Horizon League favorite Detroit and will then face Cal and then either Georgia Tech or Rice in Anaheim. Nevada and Saint Mary’s are stiff tests from out West. The schedule could play huge dividends for Drake in MVC play.

EVANSVILLE

Toughest: at Notre Dame (Dec. 10), at Colorado State (Dec. 1), Murray State (Dec. 8), at Butler (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Nov. 15-17), at Tennessee Tech (Nov. 20)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 26), Miami-Ohio (Dec. 5), Alabama State (Dec. 15), Oakland City (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- After opening on the road at Notre Dame -- an upper-echelon Big East team -- the Purple Aces play three straight home games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. But that doesn’t mean the wins will come easy. Buffalo, Yale and Western Illinois all return three starters from winning teams. Colorado State, Butler and Murray State will all contend for NCAA tournament bids. This schedule gives an improving Evansville program a chance to take that “next step.”

ILLINOIS STATE

Toughest: at Drexel (Nov. 15), at Louisville (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24), Wyoming (Dec. 4)
The rest: Delaware State (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 20), Western Michigan (Dec. 8), Morgan State (Dec. 16), Austin Peay (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- For a fringe top-25 team hoping to earn its first NCAA berth since 1998, this is a relatively weak nonconference schedule. Louisville is an NCAA title contender, Drexel returns four starters from a 29-7 team and Dayton is a tough place to play. Otherwise, there are no marquee matchups on the slate. The South Padre Island Field is weak with UAB, TCU and Northwestern.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 9), New Mexico (Dec. 1), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
Next-toughest: at Ball State (Nov. 2), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: Winthrop (Nov. 13), Truman State (Nov. 17), High Point (Nov. 25), at Morehead State (Dec. 8), IUPUI (Dec. 15)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This slate provides plenty of challenges for a program that lost four starters from an 18-15 team. Opening on the road against UCLA looks to be an insurmountable feat, but the experience will pay off in the long run. The Sycamores will also faced a much-improved Ole Miss squad in the Diamond Head Classic, which also features San Diego State, Arizona and Miami.

MISSOURI STATE

Toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 17), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Challenge (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Oral Roberts (Dec. 1), Valparaiso (Dec. 15), at New Mexico State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Philander Smith (Nov. 9), Jacksonville (Nov. 19), Alcorn State (Nov. 21), at Tulsa (Dec. 5), at Alabama A&M (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Bears will have plenty of chances to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee with this slate. The problem is that Missouri State will be loaded with new faces, making victories against postseason contenders such as San Diego State and Oklahoma State seem unlikely. A championship in the Hoops for Hope Challenge (where the Bears open against rebuilding South Carolina) would provide a nice confidence boost.

NORTHERN IOWA

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at UNLV (Dec. 19), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at George Mason (Dec. 8), vs. Iowa (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
The rest: Wartburg (Nov. 10), Toledo (Nov. 14), North Dakota (Nov. 17), Milwaukee (Dec. 1), Northern Colorado (Dec. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Panthers open play against Final Four favorite Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis, one of the most loaded tournaments in recent memory. Duke, Memphis, Missouri and Stanford are also in the field. UNLV will almost certainly be ranked in the preseason top 25, and Saint Mary’s -- last year’s WCC champion -- features one of the nation’s top point guards in Matthew Dellavedova. Iowa and George Mason will both contend for NCAA bids. What a schedule.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 24), at Western Kentucky (Dec. 5), World Vision Classic (Dec. 20-22 in Logan, Utah)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 28), at Green Bay (Dec. 14), BracketBusters
The rest: at New Orleans (Nov. 12), Benedictine-Springfield (Nov. 17), at SIU (Nov. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Other than Saint Louis, Barry Hinson won’t play many top-25 caliber teams in his first season at Southern Illinois. But the Salukis won’t face many patsies, either. One of the most difficult tests probably will come three days before Christmas, when Hinson’s squad squares off against host Utah State in the World Vision Classic.

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: at VCU (Nov. 13), at Tennessee (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21), vs. Southern Miss (at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita), BracketBusters
The rest: NC Central (Nov. 10), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), Howard (Nov. 17), Tulsa (Nov. 28), at Air Force (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 8), Charleston Southern (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Victories at VCU or Tennessee could go a long way toward enhancing the Shockers’ NCAA tournament résumé, but there isn’t too much to get excited about on the rest of the slate. It’s a shame Wichita State couldn’t schedule at least one marquee opponent to play at home. To be fair, teams from major conferences probably aren’t too eager to face Gregg Marshall’s squad on the road. Koch Arena is an incredibly difficult place to play, especially when the Shockers are on a roll, which they have been in recent years.

Chicago native Coleman joins Bradley

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
2:42
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Chicago native Ron Coleman announced Tuesday he has left Nebraska’s coaching staff to become an assistant at Bradley.

Coleman has quickly worked his way up the college coaching ranks since the Mac Irvin Fire club and Whitney Young High School in Chicago. He joined Tim Miles’ coaching staff at Colorado State prior to last season and went with Miles to Nebraska this past offseason.

When Bradley coach Geno Ford recently had an opening on his staff, Coleman jumped at the chance to be closer to home again.

“For me, I’m from the area, I’m from Chicago,” said Coleman, who played high school basketball at South Shore Career Academy. “I’m familiar with the state. Bradley basketball is like Nebraska football. They have the history. They have the lineage. They have the support.

“It was a tough decision because coach Miles is my mentor. He’s my guy. Coach Miles is the one who gave me an opportunity. I’m doing this because coach Miles is behind me. He supports my decision.”
Coleman’s ultimate dream is still ahead of him, too.

“I’m working toward being a head coach,” Coleman said. “I believe I can do that.”
CreightonAP Photo/Chuck BurtonCreighton returns almost every contributor from a 27-win team that won the Valley tourney title.

Are Doug McDermott and Creighton the overwhelming favorite or can stacked Illinois State or reloaded Wichita State challenge? Let’s catch up on news and notes from the Mountain West halfway through the offseason.

Click here to read the entire story.

Wake Forest PG Fields to transfer to Bradley

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
6:09
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Freshman point guard Anthony Fields will transfer from Wake Forest to Bradley.

Field averaged one point and one assist in 24 games during his freshman season at Wake Forest. He will sit out the 2012-2013 season and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

“We are very excited to add Anthony to this year’s recruiting class,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said in a statement. “He is a leader, great kid and high-quality student. We are expecting him to have an impact to our program in many areas.”

Fields joins Oak Park (Ill.) senior guard Ka’Darryl Bell and Dodge City Community College forward Tyshon Pickett in Bradley’s 2012 recruiting class.

Trying lessons worth it for Bradley's Brown

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
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Bradley senior Taylor Brown can distinctly remember crying twice through it all.

The first time was on Nov. 11, 2010 when he was told by a doctor he wouldn’t play basketball again. Those were tears of sadness.

The second occurrence came on June 3, 2011, which happened to be his sister’s birthday, when he was told he was cleared to play basketball again. Those were tears of joy.

In between, Brown felt like crying plenty, but he never succumbed to it. As much as his situation seemed unfair and as much as he wanted to feel sorry himself, he wasn’t going to give in to his emotions until he was playing the game he loved again.

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Illinois college hoops power rankings

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
9:17
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John ShurnaChris Chambers/Getty ImagesJohn Shurna and Northwestern are seeking the program's first NCAA tourney bid.

Illinois college basketball has seen better days. It doesn’t feel like that long ago the state was receiving multiple NCAA tournament bids. The truth is, Illinois hasn’t had more than one team make it since 2007.

The 2011-2012 season likely won’t be much different. While there is some hope for the future of a number of programs, the present isn’t sunny. Illinois and Northwestern are likely the only two teams with a NCAA tournament shot this season, and neither is a given.

Here’s a look at the state’s preseason power rankings:

Northwestern 1. Northwestern: The Wildcats return the most proven talent in the state, bringing back four starters from last year’s NIT quarterfinal team. Senior forward John Shurna leads that bunch. Shurna’s numbers were as good as anyone in the country before he went down with an ankle injury last season. The expectations in Evanston are for him to return to form. Junior guards Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio should give them consistent production. Sophomore JerShon Cobb saw major minutes as a freshman. Big man Luka Mirkovic is a bit of wildcard, but he’s shown improvement in early practices. The one lost starter – four-year point guard Michael Thompson – is a vital one. Northwestern will need to figure out whether freshmen guards Tre Demps and David Sobolewski can be reliable early in their careers or Marcotullio can fit the role. Depth is still an issue, too. Of course, this Northwestern team will be judged solely on whether it reaches the NCAA tournament or not. Another NIT appearance is no longer progress.

Illinois2. Illinois: This season’s Illini feel a lot like a jigsaw puzzle you’ve just opened the box to and dropped the scattered pieces on a table. You begin with a lot of uncertainty over how it’s all going to be put together, but you believe all the pieces are there to do it. Right now, Illinois’ players are all over the table. Brandon Paul has the makings a Big Ten star, but he hasn’t done anything to earn that title yet. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard is as athletic as any big man in the country, but he’s yet to consistently utilize his gifts. Senior Sam Maniscalco appears he could be a veteran leader and a reliable point guard, but he is still coming off two ankle surgeries. Expectations are higher for Crandall Head and Tyler Griffey, but it’s still only an assumption they can produce this year. Even D.J. Richardson, the most reliable player of the returnees, went through a horrid stretch last season. Throw in a highly-touted recruiting class of six freshmen, and you could be headed for an immensely fun or aggravating season. If everything works out, Illinois should be able to complete the puzzle and head to the NCAA tournament again.

DePaul3. DePaul: The Blue Demons just can’t catch a break. First, it was point guard Shane Larkin, the most talented of their incoming freshmen, leaving the program in the summer for personal reasons. That news was followed by season-ending injuries to forwards Tony Freeland and Montray Clemons. Also throw in that freshman Macari Brooks has now left the program due to eligibility issues. With all those roster shakeups, DePaul lost its probable starting point guard and much-needed depth to its bench. DePaul is certainly more talented than last season’s team, which went 1-17 in the Big East, but this is still likely a rebuilding season for coach Oliver Purnell. The Blue Demons will again heavily rely on the sophomore duo of Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin. They’ll both be Big East stars, but where DePaul ends up will depend on the production of Krys Faber, Donnavan Kirk, Moses Morgan, Jeremiah Kelly and the newcomers.

ISU4. Illinois State: The Redbirds were as balanced a team as any in the country last season. They placed 10 players between 3.5-10.5 points a game. That’s all good when you’re winning, but Illinois State didn’t win a whole lot last season. It’ll be looking for someone to emerge as a go-to player this year and it’ll likely be junior 6-9 forward Jackie Carmichael. He has the potential to be a double-double player. Around Carmichael, the Redbirds have a mixture of experienced players and newcomers. Anthony Cousin, Jon Ekey and John Wilkins all started a number of games last season. Junior college transfer Tyler Brown and freshman Johnny Hill could make an impact, too.

SIU5. Southern Illinois: Salukis coach Chris Lowery was given another season to prove himself. This is likely the end for him if the Salukis don’t start winning. Lowery isn’t off to a great start either. He promised retention of players after a postseason press conference and soon after lost two more players from last year’s roster. All together, he had four players depart the program after last season. The most significant one was Gene Teague, who left for Seton Hall. There is some talent remaining. Senior guard Justin Bocot and senior forward Mamadou Seck should be among the best at their positions in the Missouri Valley. Lowery’s fate could be determined by all his newcomers, which include five freshmen and three junior college transfers.

Bradley6. Bradley: Braves coach Geno Ford lost a key piece when Sam Maniscalco transferred, but the cupboard wasn’t left completely bare. Taylor Brown could be a double-double machine this season. Dyricus Simms-Edwards was lighting up the Missouri Valley late in the season. Walt Lemon continues to emerge as a point guard. The Braves were picked last in the Missouri Valley, but they have the potential to surprise some people.

Loyola7. Loyola: Ramblers coach Porter Moser has put his program in place to have a successful season in 2012-2013 by bringing in transfers Cully Payne and Devin Hill and a strong recruiting class, but that doesn’t help the Ramblers this season. Loyola will likely struggle this year without a proven point guard and a whole lot of depth. Junior forward Ben Averkamp could emerge as one of the best players in the Horizon League and may be worth the price of the admission in the newly-renovated Gentile Center. If Jordan Hicks can get healthy, that should help the Ramblers, too.

UIC8. UIC: The Flames could be in for a rockier season than coach Howard Moore’s first year. Moore has committed the program to building from the bottom up, and that means youth this season. Moore welcomes eight newcomers, including seven freshmen, to the roster. UIC also graduated its two stars in Robo Kreps and Paul Carter. Toledo transfer Hayden Humes could emerge in one of their roles. Freshman Marc Brown is another newcomer to watch.

EIU 9. Northern Illinois: The Huskies are also undergoing a rebuild under first-coach Mark Montgomery. Northern Illinois has eight freshmen this season and could have had nine if Dre Henley didn’t leave the team. The Huskies possess some talent in that class, especially Abdel Nader, but it’s going to take some time. Tim Toler is the leading returning player.

EIU10. Eastern Illinois: Like Chris Lowery, this could be an important season for Eastern Illinois coach Mike Miller. The Panthers have gone 63-113 in Miller’s six seasons and are coming off a 9-20 season. Jeremy Granger is back for his senior season and that should help. Outside of Granger, Eastern Illinois will look to a number of freshmen and junior college transfers to step up. Former Connecticut guard Darius Smith is expected to join the team later in the season.

WIU11. Western Illinois: Now entering his fourth season, Leatherneck coach Jim Molinari is still trying to turn the program around. Western Illinois has gone 20-60 in his first three seasons and went 7-23 last year. Injuries were costly a season ago. They do return multi-dimensional point guard Ceola Clark, Billy Molinari, Tommie Tyler and David Gebru all from injury.

CSU12. Chicago State: The Cougars have restocked their team in coach Tracy Dildy’s second season running the program on the city's south side. Dildy has nine new players. Jeremy Robinson, a former Illinois State player, is expected to lead the group. Northern Illinois transfer Lee Fisher is another newcomer who can make an immediate impact.

SIUE13. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville: The Cougars have to be excited for the return of junior forward Mark Yelovich. He suffered a broken foot in the season opener last season after leading the team in scoring his first two seasons. Corey Wickware, Kevin Stineman and a few of the newcomers, including freshman Charles Joy, should be able to assist Yelovich this season.


Illinois' top-30 college basketball players

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
9:42
PM CT

Here’s a look at Illinois’ top 30 college basketball players, not including freshmen.

1. John Shurna, Northwestern, senior, forward: Shurna looked like an All-American when he was healthy last season. He’s healthy again and should be among the Big Ten’s top players. He’s likely to be the state’s lone 2012 NBA draft prospect.

[+] EnlargeCleveland Melvin
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesCleveland Melvin was Big East Freshmen of the Year in 2010-11.

2. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul, sophomore, forward: Melvin surprised plenty of people by stepping in as a freshman and dominating the Big East. He averaged 17.4 points during Big East play. He’s worked on diversifying his game for this season.

3. Brandon Paul, Illinois, junior, guard: Paul has shown glimpses of his potential the last few seasons. With Illinois losing a bulk of its roster, Paul is set to become its go-to player. Illinois’ fate is in his hands.

4. Drew Crawford, Northwestern, junior, guard: Crawford slightly improved his numbers from his freshman to sophomore season. He’ll look to take another step this season and work toward averaging around 15 points and six rebounds a game.

5. Brandon Young, DePaul, sophomore, guard Young held more than his own as a freshman point guard in the Big East. The Blue Demons would like to give him a chance to score more this season.

6. Ben Averkamp, Loyola, junior, forward: Averkamp has a chance to be a star in the Horizon League. He has a versatile game and has been working on adding a mean streak to it. He’ll get a chance to showcase it against Illinois in the season opener.

7. D.J. Richardson, Illinois, junior, guard: Richardson went through a rough stretch late last season where his shot just wouldn’t fall. Illinois hopes he’ll be more reliable offensively this season. His stellar defense will keep him on the court.

8. Meyers Leonard, Illinois, sophomore, center: Leonard could end up toward the top of this list if he realizes his potential. He struggled his freshman season, but he has all the makings of a star. He will need to limit his fouls this year.

9. Dyricus Simms-Edwards, Bradley, junior, guard: Bradley coach Geno Ford was luckily able to convince Simms-Edwards to stay at Bradley. He scored 15 or more points in eight of Bradley’s last 10 games last season.

10. Sam Maniscalco, Illinois, senior, guard: Maniscalco may end up the best point guard in the state, but there are still questions if he can return to his old self after two ankle surgeries. So far, he’s shown positive signs of achieving that.

11. Alex Marcotullio, Northwestern, junior, guard: Marcotullio is primed to have a breakout season with Juice Thompson’s departure. He played for Great Britain’s U-20 team this summer.

12. Ceola Clark, Western Illinois, senior, guard: Clark sat out the bulk of last season with a toe injury. He’s as versatile as any guard in the state. He has the potential for a few triple-doubles this season.

13. Luka Mirkovic, Northwestern, senior, center: Mirkovic is thought to be in the best shape of his career. He averaged 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds last season.

14. Jeremiah Kelly, DePaul, senior, guard: Kelly is among the Big East’s top 3-point shooters when he’s on. He’ll look to be more consistent in his final season.

15. Krys Faber, DePaul, senior, center: Faber’s interior play will be key for the Blue Demons. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds last season.

16. Mamadou Seck, Southern Illinois, senior, forward: Seck will be focused on more this season with Gene Teague’s departure. He averaged 10.8 points and 8.1 rebounds last season.

17. Taylor Brown, Bradley, senior, forward: Brown will look to return to form after sitting out last season. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds the previous year.

18. JerShon Cobb, Northwestern, sophomore, guard: Cobb was aggressive last season and averaged 7.4 points as a freshman. He had hip surgery in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeLuka Mirkovic
Tommy Giglio/US PresswireNorthwestern's counting on a big year from forward Luka Mirkovic.

19. Moses Morgan, DePaul, sophomore, forward: Morgan came on late last season and scored in double figures in five of his team’s last six games.

20. Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State, junior, forward: Carmichael is the team’s returning leading scorer and rebounder from last season.

21. Justin Bocot, Southern Illinois, senior, guard: Bocot found his groove late last season. He finished with five consecutive games of double-digit scoring.

22. Jordan Hicks, Loyola, senior, guard: Hicks still needs to get completely healthy, but he could be Loyola’s second best player.

23. Jeremy Granger, Eastern Illinois, senior, guard: Granger averaged a team-high 14.5 points last season. He also shot .904 from the free-throw line.

24. Tyler Griffey, Illinois, junior, forward: Griffey should have a larger role this season after a disappointing sophomore season.

25. Tim Toler, Northern Illinois, senior, forward: Toler is among the few returnees for the Huskies. He averaged 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.

26. Hayden Humes, UIC, sophomore, forward: Humes is a versatile forward who should fit UIC’s system. He averaged 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds at Toledo last season.

27. John Wilkins, Illinois State, junior, guard: Wilkins has yet to find consistency in his game, but he has the tools to be an impact player.

28. Mark Yelovich, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, junior, forward: Yelovich sat out most of last season. He averaged 16.7 points and 5.9 rebounds his first year.

29. Jeremy Robinson, Chicago State, junior, forward: Robinson, a former Illinois State player, will be Chicago State’s go-to player this season.

30. Darrin Williams, UIC, senior, center: Williams dropped 25-plus pounds in the offseason. The Flames are optimistic it’ll lead to be more production.

Illini counting on Maniscalco's health

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
6:48
PM CT

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With each 3-pointer, assist and steal by Illinois senior guard Sam Maniscalco during Saturday’s scrimmage, his father Carl Maniscalco shouted, “Way to go, Sammy,” from the front row of Assembly Hall.

It was hard to tell who was having more fun father or son.

[+] EnlargeIllinois is counting on Sam Maniscalco, a transfer from Bradley, to provide a stabilizing presence on a young roster.
AP Photo/Tom Gannam)Illinois is counting on Sam Maniscalco, a transfer from Bradley, to provide a stabilizing presence on a young roster.

“It’s a great feeling,” Carl said. “It’s been a while. It’s good to see him running around and not seeing him raise his hand to get out. It’s been a long time since we’ve really seen him play like that. To be honest with you, he’s moving as well as he’s moved since his sophomore year at Bradley.”

Maniscalco's sophomore season was in 2008-2009. Since then the Bradley tranfer's left ankle has derailed his career. He fought through ankle pain his junior season, underwent his first surgery after the season, played six games in 2010, had another surgery in December and is now finally getting back to his old self.

Maniscalco still has good and bad days with his ankle, but he thought he was close to being where he hoped to be.

“It’s still sore and stiff,” said Maniscalco, who gained immediate eligibility at Illinois because he is pursuing a master’s degree unavailable at Bradley. “It’s a by-product of having multiple surgeries. It’s still going to take some time. It’s a tough surgery to come back from.

“There’s a little frustration involved, but I’m more focused on leading these guys using my experience and toughness to help these guys to be successful, help this program to be successful.”

Maniscalco showed off those qualities during Saturday’s scrimmage. While his younger teammates missed shots, constantly turned the ball over and struggled before Illini fans at Assembly Hall, Maniscalco shined. He made a 3-pointer on his team’s first possession, sank two more 3-pointers, created a few steals and ran the offense smoothly.

“He’s a veteran,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “He’s got the experience. He just stepped up and played.

“If you watched him at Bradley, you know. But if you didn’t, you see this short, little guy. He doesn’t look the part, there’s no doubt, but he knows how to play.”

Weber does still have concerns about Maniscalco’s ankle.

“We just got to hope his ankle gets close to 100 percent,” Weber said. “I don’t know if we’ll even get there, but we got to get closer.”

Carl could see progress in his son’s ankle from even a month ago. He thought Maniscalco was faster, was cutting harder and was more fluid. Carl was pleased to see his son perform so well before Illinois’ fans, but he would have had the same feeling if he had witnessed it anywhere.

“If I was seeing him in a basement playing, I would have been excited at this point,” Carl said. “Just to see him out there and enjoying himself, being free and being a basketball player again.

“Today was a great day. Hopefully, it’s a great start to what will be a great season.”

Evan Turner was just as happy for his close friend and former Illinois Wolves club teammate. Turner, who now plays with the Philadelphia 76ers, sat alongside Carl and Mike Mullins, who runs the Wolves’ program, courtside during the scrimmage.

“I wanted to come to support him,” Turner said. “He definitely deserves the moment. I just wanted to be here and see it.
“He’s a great player. I’m just glad he’s here. He gets to experience everything the Big Ten has to offer. He can definitely lead the team. They got some young guys. He sets the right example. I think he’ll be able to hit some shots, play great and have an opportunity to win a lot of games.”

Bradley's Brown cleared to play

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
11:47
PM CT
Bradley senior forward Taylor Brown has been cleared medically to participate in basketball activities after sitting out last season with a heart-related problem, the school announced on Wednesday.

“We welcome Taylor back to the court,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said in a statement. “He has been through a difficult experience, and we are happy that he is able to rejoin his teammates on the floor and compete for Bradley.”

Brown, a 6-foot-6 forward, averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds during the 2009-2010 season. Last season, he was required to de-condition his body for three months for cardiac testing while going through a series of tests.

Brown’s first public return to the court is expected to occur when Bradley plays Wisconsin-Parkside on Nov. 1. He will be withheld from Bradley’s scrimmage on Oct. 18 because of a violation of team rules.

Les seeks to collect from Bradley

July, 8, 2011
7/08/11
7:26
PM CT
UC Davis coach Jim Les has notified his former employer Bradley of a potential lawsuit against the school, according to an email obtained by ESPNChicago.com.

Les wrote an email to Bradley board of trustees chairman Michael McCord earlier this week to notify him of a potential lawsuit against the university to dispute the amount of money Bradley still owes him after he was fired by the school in March. Les' attorney C.J. Krawczyk confirmed the email on Friday.

Read the full story.

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