Chicago Colleges: Ohio State
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The struggles of DePaul and Illinois in recent years have been largely blamed on their in-state recruiting. While both programs have attracted some Illinois players, they’ve struggled to sway the most significant ones and in some cases failed to project players who became stars.
Here are my top 100 players the state has produced since 2003, which spans Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s career and that of three DePaul coaches. The criteria for this list included success in college and the pros for the older players and ability and potential for the younger ones.
1. Derrick Rose (Memphis, Class of 2007): DePaul and Illinois were said to be in the mix, but neither seemed to have a real chance. Rose wanted a shot at a national championship in his one year in college. Memphis lost in the national championship game in that one season, and the Tigers later had to vacate the season due to NCAA violations -- some of which had to do with Rose. He was the No. 1 pick by the Chicago Bulls in 2008 and is the reigning NBA MVP.
3. Evan Turner (Ohio State, 2007): DePaul and Illinois offered Turner, but Ohio State won out. Turner was undervalued nationally coming out of high school, but he was the second-best player in the state’s Class of 2007 next to Rose. After being named the Big Ten player of the year as a junior, Turner was drafted No. 2 in the 2010 draft and averages 8.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Philadelphia 76ers.
4. Shaun Livingston (Duke, 2004): Livingston chose Duke over Illinois and Arizona, but ended up entering the NBA draft instead. He was taken No. 4 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. He suffered a career-changing knee injury in 2007 and is now a role player for the Milwaukee Bucks.
5. Shannon Brown (Michigan State, 2003): Brown was already committed to Tom Izzo by the time Weber took over at Illinois. Brown started nearly every game of his three-year career at Michigan State. He was taken in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft. He averages 8.7 points for the Phoenix Suns.
6. JaVale McGee (Nevada, 2006): McGee played his senior year in Chicago and didn’t receive a whole lot of interest. Northwestern recruited him, and he signed with Nevada. He spent two years at Nevada and was selected in the 2008 NBA draft. He now starts for the Washington Wizards and is averaging 12.0 points, 8.8 points and 2.7 blocks.
7. Julian Wright (Kansas, 2005): Bill Self swooped in and convinced Wright to commit to Kansas during a home visit. Wright was thought to be heavily considering DePaul and Illinois. He spent two years at Kansas before being picked No. 13 in the 2007 NBA draft. He last played in the NBA in 2011.
8. Wayne Blackshear (Louisville, 2011): Blackshear included DePaul and Illinois on his list, but Louisville was the team to beat after he visited there. He just recently began playing for Louisville after suffering an injury prior to the season. He’s expected to be a future NBA player.
9. Iman Shumpert (Georgia Tech, 2008): Shumpert eliminated Illinois before his final list. He chose Georgia Tech over Marquette and North Carolina. Shumpert led Georgia Tech in scoring, rebounding and assists his junior season. He left school early and was drafted No. 17 in the 2011 NBA draft. He’s started 17 games in his rookie season for the New York Knicks.
11. Sherron Collins (Kansas, 2006): Collins chose Kansas and former Illinois coach Self over the Illini. Collins’ class won 130 games and a national championship in his four years at Kansas. Collins was among the top guards in the country his last two seasons and is now playing overseas.
12. Meyers Leonard (Illinois, 2010): The Illini were on Leonard as early as anyone, and he awarded them with his commitment. He was ranked No. 47 overall in the Class of 2010 by ESPN. He’s blossomed as a sophomore for Illinois and is expected to be a future lottery pick. He could be among the nation’s premier college players if he stays for another season.
13. Jereme Richmond (Illinois, 2010): Richmond committed to the Illini as a freshman. He wavered in his commitment at times, but remained loyal to the Illini. He showed glimpses of his potential as a freshman, but his first year at Illinois was defined by its rockiness. He entered the NBA draft after one year and was not selected. He was later arrested for gun charges. Richmond is now playing for the Sauk Valley Predators of the Premier Basketball League.
14. Jerel McNeal (Marquette, 2005): McNeal chose Marquette over Dayton and Purdue. Despite being one of top players in the Chicago area, McNeal wasn’t highly touted nationally. He is Marquette’s career leader in points and steals. He is now playing overseas.
15. Jacob Pullen (Kansas State, 2007): Pullen had considered Illinois, but decided on Kansas State. Pullen was a star in the Big 12 during his final seasons at Kansas State. He averaged 19.2 and 20.2 points in his last two years. He is now playing overseas.
16. Ryan Boatright (Connecticut, 2011): Boatright committed to USC as a freshman, later committed West Virginia and finally ended up at Connecticut. He wasn’t given much national respect out of high school, but he was the best high school player in the Chicago area last season. He’s now starting as a freshman for the Huskies.
17. Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga, 2005): Pargo also considered Illinois during his recruiting process. He had a memorable career at Gonzaga and is now a backup guard for the Memphis Grizzlies.
18. Demetri McCamey (Illinois, 2007): McCamey was outshined by high school teammate Evan Turner his senior season, but was still among the state’s top players. McCamey was a four-year starter for the Illini and earned all-conference honors his final three seasons. He is now playing overseas.
19. Patrick Beverley (Arkansas, 2006): Illinois was in the mix for Beverley. He starred at Arkansas for two seasons before being suspended and then leaving the team. He was selected in the 2009 NBA draft and is now playing overseas.
20. DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky, 2008): Liggins played his final high school season at an out-of-state prep school. Liggins started for Kentucky his junior year and helped the Wildcats to the Final Four. He entered the draft early and was taken in the second round in 2011. He plays for the Orlando Magic.
22. Brandon Paul (Illinois, 2009): Paul was the state’s top high school player in 2009, but didn’t receive a lot of national recruitment. Paul was erratic his first two years at Illinois, but has taken strides to becoming a star this year. He has NBA potential.
23. Michael Dunigan (Oregon, 2008): Dunigan, a McDonald’s All-American, and his AAU teammate Matt Humphrey were considering Illinois, but opted to attend Oregon together. Dunigan left Oregon after two seasons and has been playing overseas since.
24. Mac Koshwal (DePaul, 2007): Koshwal was ranked as high as No. 18 in the Class of 2007 by one scouting service. Koshwal was near a double-double throughout his career at DePaul. He left after his junior season and was not drafted.
25. Bobby Frasor (North Carolina, 2005): Frasor, a McDonald’s All-American, picked North Carolina over Stanford. Injuries derailed his career, but Frasor was still a role player for the Tar Heels and helped them to a national championship. He recently retired from playing overseas to pursue a coaching career.
The next 10
26. Jamarcus Ellis: Junior college, Indiana, 2004
27. Stefhon Hannah: Junior college, finished at Missouri, 2004
28. Jerome Randle: California, 2006
29. Michael Thompson: Northwestern, 2007
30. Chasson Randle: Stanford, 2011
31. Tracy Abrams: Illinois, 2011
32. Drew Crawford: Northwestern, 2009
33. Jack Cooley: Notre Dame, 2009
34. D.J. Richardson: Illinois, 2009
35. Lenzelle Smith Jr.: Ohio State, 2010
Maurice Acker: Ball State, finished at Marquette, 2005
Joseph Bertrand: Illinois, 2009
Ben Brust: Wisconsin, 2010
Calvin Brock: Illinois, 2004
Brian Carlwell: 2006, Illinois, finished at San Diego State
Joevan Catron: 2006, Oregon
Justin Cerasoli: 2004, Seton Hall, finished at Loyola
Bill Cole: 2007, Illinois
D.J. Cooper: 2009, Ohio
Jamee Crockett: 2011, DePaul
Justin Dentmon: 2004, Washington
Kevin Dillard: 2008, Southern Illinois, now at Dayton
Dion Dixon: 2008, Cincinnati
Alex Dragicevich: 2011, Notre Dame
Osiris Eldridge: 2006, Illinois State
Brandon Ewing: 2005, Wyoming
Nnanna Egwu: 2011, Illinois
Myke Henry: 2011, Illinois
Colin Falls: 2003, Notre Dame
Carlton Fay: 2007, Southern Illinois
Tony Freeman: 2005, Iowa, finished at Southern Illinois
Reggie Hamilton: 2007, now at Oakland
Crandall Head: 2008, Illinois, now at a junior college
Matt Humphrey: 2008, Oregon, now at Boston College
Lewis Jackson: 2008, Purdue
Othyus Jeffers: 2003, junior college, finished at NAIA
Aaron Johnson: 2007, UAB
Anthony Johnson: 2010, Purdue
Jeremy Jones: 2009, junior college, now at Kansas State
Lazeric Jones: 2008, junior college, now at UCLA
Roosevelt Jones: 2011, Butler
Verdell Jones: 2008, Indiana
Frank Kaminsky: 2011, Wisconsin
Jeremiah Kelly: 2008, DePaul
Robert Kreps: 2007, UIC
Mario Little: 2006, junior college, finished at Kansas
Kevin Lisch: 2005, Saint Louis
Sam Maniscalco: 2007, Bradley, now at Illinois
Dameon Mason: 2003,Marquette, finished at LSU
Richard McBride: 2003, Illinois
Mike McCall: 2010, Saint Louis
Chas McFarland: 2006, Wake Forest
Charles McKinney: 2011, DePaul
Trent Meacham: 2004, Dayton, finished at Illinois
Nate Minnoy: 2005, Purdue, finished at NAIA
Bryan Mullins: 2005, Southern Illinois
Jeremy Nash: 2006, Northwestern
Cully Payne: 2008, Iowa, now at Loyola
Shaun Pruitt: 2004, Illinois
Jason Richards: 2004, Davidson
Brian Randle: 2003, Illinois
Rayvonte Rice: 2010, Drake
Justin Safford: 2007, Missouri
Matt Shaw: 2004, Southern Illinois
Mike Shaw: 2011, Illinois
Stan Simpson: 2008, Illinois, now at Memphis
Jamar Smith: 2005, Illinois, finished at Southern Indiana
Ahmad Starks: 2010, Oregon State
David Sobolewski: 2011, Northwestern
Mike Stovall: 2007: Oregon State, finished at DePaul
Sam Thompson: 2011, Ohio State
Mike Tisdale: 2007, Illinois
DeAndre Thomas: 2005, junior college, later at Indiana
Willie Veasley: 2006, Butler
Will Walker: 2006, DePaul
* In alphabetical order
Not when his team has put up 1,022 yards of total offense, production outdone only by the head-scratching mistakes that have led to 10 turnovers and 17 penalties over 120 minutes of game action.
"I still believe in this team, I still believe we'll be a good football team. But the chance to be a good team is all the things that we're doing right now. We're not giving ourselves a chance to be a good football team."
The challenges of getting a team over the hump may draw greater pressure at a school such as Notre Dame, the third-winningest program in FBS history and a team that had its sights set on a BCS bowl two short weeks ago.
Kelly downplayed that notion, saying he has come across challenges at each one of his three previous head-coaching stops.
"Not one school is the same," he said. "I had challenges at all the schools that I've been at in terms of getting a team over those inherent challenges, and there are inherent challenges here. But we'll get through those as well. And the product that we're putting out on the field, I understand we've gotta win and our players wanna win.
"We're not, we got a chance to be a good team. We can't be a good team until we take care of the little things that are popping up. It's pretty clear that until we get those things taken care of on Saturdays, we'll be a mediocre football team."
When asked if he felt the Irish were close or far from being a good team, Kelly pointed to the demanding early-season schedule, saying his team's mistakes were magnified because of the spotlight it was playing under.
Other schools, he said, have gotten by unscathed by the public.
"We've made so many mistakes against two pretty tough teams coming out," Kelly said. "Again, as you see the schedule, Ohio State's playing Toledo. I mean, teams are playing easy games early on in the schedule. We don't get that luxury. We gotta go play in front of 115,000, and those mistakes get, obviously, they're more glaring against opponents that are physically pretty good as well.
"I believe that we're gonna be a good football team. We won't be until we clean up the little things that keep popping up on Saturdays."
-- On personnel matters, Kelly said tight end Mike Ragone (knee) and linebacker Danny Spond (hamstring) would undergo MRIs. He also said the staff decided to move Theo Riddick from punt returns because it thought both those duties and his wide receiver duties were too much for him.
How the game was won: Ohio State had spurts during which it would build a lead on Michigan and then allow the Wolverines back into the game. The Buckeyes stopped toying around and shut the door on Michigan’s upset hopes in the game’s final 10 minutes. Michigan nearly made an improbable comeback in the final minutes, cutting the lead to four with an assortment of 3-pointer, but it was too late.
Turning point: Tim Hardaway Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to 47-45 with 9:53 left in the game. From there, it was almost all Buckeyes. They responded with a 16-0 run. Aaron Craft and William Buford combined for 11 points in the run.
Player of the game: Ohio State was pretty balanced on Saturday with /five players scoring between seven and 16 points. Jon Diebler came out hot. William Buford contributed later. But again, the honor has to go to freshman Jared Sullinger. He recorded his 16th double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Michigan player of the game: Darius Morris tried to keep the Wolverines in the game. He finished with a team-high 16 points.
Unsung hero of the game: Ohio State freshman Deshaun Thomas came off the bench and provided nine point and four rebounds.
ESPN SportsCenter highlight of the game: Ohio State center Dallas Lauderdale blocked shots on back-to-back possession late in the second half to continue the Buckeyes’ huge run.
What the game means: The Big Ten regular-season champs will get a chance to also win the conference’s tournament title. The Buckeyes struggled against Northwestern in their conference tournament opener on Friday, but looked like their usual, dominant selves on Saturday. For Michigan, Saturday would have been icing on the cake. The Wolverines needed to beat Illinois on Friday to guarantee itself a NCAA tournament spot, and they achieved that.
“Especially from this year, yes, I would say so,” he said. “I’m happy about that one.”
Ohio State never dominated Northwestern like that. The Buckeyes stumbled along in both their games only to find ways late to pull out narrow wins over Northwestern. The first time around they escaped with a one-point win in Evanston. And on Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, they trailed by three points late in the second half, fought back to win in overtime.
For Ohio State, the wins were sighs of relief. But even if the Buckeyes had lost one or even both games, their season likely wouldn’t have changed.
For Northwestern, they were two of the biggest missed opportunities in their program’s history. Beating the nation’s No. 1 team once or twice would have been major strides for an evolving program.
Instead, the Wildcats were left with that empty feeling of not reaching the NCAA tournament again coupled with two heartbreaking losses to Ohio State.
“Obviously two times this year, earlier on and this afternoon, it’s just a devastating feeling,” Northwestern sophomore Drew Crawford said. “Such a close game, especially against the No. 1 team in the nation, it’s such a great opportunity, so it’s always tough.”
The disappointment was draped on Northwestern coach Bill Carmody’s face in the postgame press conference. He shook his head more than once as if he replaying the game in his mind.
“Well, you know, very tough, tough loss for us,” Carmody said. “You know, I thought as a team we did what we wanted to do going in and executed the way we wanted to at both ends. You know, just weren't able to quite get it done.
“I think we have a good team, so you’d like to win those games, and you could see it from the guys. They came here to win and thought they could, and we were right there. I'd say disappointment.”
The loss was especially difficult for Northwestern’s leader Michael Thompson. Losing Friday meant he would never play in a NCAA tournament game in his career.
Thompson tried to stay positive about it.
“Obviously we came down here to win it, not just to play teams close,” Thompson said. “You know, but we just have to move past it. It's definitely going to be a long bus ride back to Evanston, but just have to move past it and focus on the next postseason.”
Northwestern could be NIT bound for a third consecutive season, which would be a school record, but that won’t be certain for the next few days.
“We’re hoping for the NIT,” Crawford said. “I love this team. I want us to be able to continue to play this year. I’m hoping we can make it.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a quick look at Ohio State’s 67-61 overtime win over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament’s quarterfinals on Friday.
How the game was won: Ohio State has now broken Northwestern’s heart twice (Ohio State won by one in Evanston), and this time around was especially excruciating. The Wildcats led by three points late in the second half and relinquished the lead to allow overtime. The Buckeyes, especially freshman Jared Sullinger, were dominant in overtime. Ohio State dropped the ball down to Sullinger, and he went to work. He was fouled five times and connected on all 10 of his free throws.
Turning point: Northwestern center Luka Mirkovic was the hero when he drained a wide-open 3-pointer to pull the Wildcats within 56-55 with 3:40 remaining in overtime. At the other end, he changed that status. He fouled Sullinger, threw his mouthpiece to the floor in disgust, was called for a technical and fouled out of the game. Ohio State only capitalized by making two of the four free throws, but his absence on the floor freed up room for Sullinger. Ohio State closed the overtime on an 11-6 run.
Stat of the game: Ohio State was unconscious from 3-point range against Wisconsin in the Big Ten regular-season finale, hitting 14 straight. On Friday, the Buckeyes returned to reality, missing their first seven and shooting 1 for 9 in the opening half. They finished 7 of 21 for the game.
Player of the game: Sullinger wasn’t especially effective scoring inside, but he got to the line and his free-throw shooting decided the game. He sank all 10 of his free throws in overtime and was 16 of 18 for the game. He finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Unsung hero: Aaron Craft plays major minutes for the No. 1 team in the country, but he’s not even the most famous freshman on his own team. But on Friday, Craft was nearly as good as freshman pal Sullinger. Craft scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench.
Northwestern player of the game: John Shurna looked like the dominant player he was early in the season. He scored a game-high 23 points in the loss.
SportsCenter highlight of the game: Sullinger hasn’t been humbled much this season, but he was during the opening half on Friday. Turning to his right and going up for a layup, Sullinger never saw Shurna approaching from the left. As Sullinger put his shot up, Shurna flew into the picture and swatted Sullinger’s shot out of bounds.
What game means: Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes were sluggish at times Friday, but came through when it mattered most. For Northwestern, this one is tough. Its NCAA tournament hopes were dashed again. The Wildcats have never reached the NCAA tournament and will have to wait at least one more year to achieve that goal. Northwestern graduates four-year starting point guard Michael Thompson, but will return four of its starters. If invited, the Wildcats will play in their third consecutive NIT.
EVANSTON, Ill. – Even if you don’t like Northwestern, you have to feel for Northwestern.
Its history is defined by disappointments. The Wildcats’ luck goes like this -- even though they’re as good as they’ve ever been this season, the Big Ten is as loaded as it has ever been, and Northwestern, as per usual, remains toward the bottom in the conference's standings.
It’s a program that the NCAA tournament has forever eluded. The talk surrounding the team every season, especially recently, is of optimism that this could be the year it finally makes it to the tournament, and every season they’re on the outside looking in. Instead, they celebrate NIT tournament appearance banners.
Saturday’s 58-57 loss to No. 1 Ohio State was another chapter in that book of disappointment.
There was no reason Northwestern should have even had a chance against the Buckeyes on Saturday, and it would have likely been less heartbreaking for the Wildcats if they had been beaten badly.
For one, the Wildcats were without John Shurna, who was ruled out of the game earlier in the day after continuing to show concussion symptoms. Shurna is Northwestern’s star. He’s the equalizer. He’s the player who can pour in 30 points on a given night and give Northwestern a fighting chance against nearly everyone. He’s who made Kevin Coble expendable before the season.
Secondly, even with Shurna, Northwestern would have been the underdog against Ohio State. It hasn’t exactly been a dominant team this season. The Wildcats were 3-6 in the Big Ten heading into the game and had lost all six of their contents against ranked opponents.
Plus, this was Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country. They’re undefeated. They possess possibly the best player in the country in freshman Jared Sullinger. They possess some of the best shooters in the country. They may not go undefeated the entire season, but this wasn’t where that streak was thought to end.
But despite all the reasons Northwestern shouldn’t have competed Saturday, the Wildcats nearly pulled off the impossible. They came within a shot of shocking the country, being the top story on "SportsCenter," winning the biggest game in its history and putting itself back in the NCAA tournament discussion.
It was almost a perfect storm for Northwestern. The Wildcats played a smart game, slowing down the pace by taking almost the full 35 seconds of shot clock on nearly every possession and giving Ohio State fewer chances to score. Instead of concentrating on Sullinger like everyone else has, the Wildcats’ focus was on not allowing Ohio State’s sharpshooters to go off. They allowed Sullinger to get his, but contained his crew.
Northwestern even had luck on its side. When Ohio State began pulling away in the second half, building its lead to double digits, Northwestern was handed a present. While Michael Thompson sank a 3-pointer, Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale was called for an intentional foul. The foul led to a free throw followed by Northwestern getting the ball back then a 3-pointer by freshman JerShon Cobb. Just like that, Northwestern was back in the game. Ohio State coach Thad Matta remarked afterward he thought he had never seen a seven-point play.
Everything began rolling in Northwestern’s favor. Thompson made a 3 with 5:58 left to cut the lead to four points. Alex Marcotullio followed that up with his own 3 to pull Northwestern within one point. With less than four minutes remaining, Thompson buried a 3-pointer from the right side of the court to put the Wildcats ahead 55-54. He knew it was going in from the second it left his hand, and the arena erupted when it fell through the net.
Ohio State regained a 57-54 lead, but Thompson answered again with a driving layup. Tied at 57, Northwestern forced a turnover, and the fans jumped to their feet. The upset was in the Wildcats’ reach, and the entire arena could feel it.
But then, Northwestern’s history caught up with it. The Wildcats turned the ball over with 17 seconds remaining. Ohio State dropped the ball to Sullinger in the post, and he was fouled with 3.5 seconds left. As if the world was toying with Northwestern, Sullinger missed his first attempt, but swished the second. With one last shot, Northwestern sophomore Drew Crawford’s half-court heave missed wide left and banged off the glass.
When the shot fell to the ground, Northwestern’s heads fell with it. They were that close to changing their story, their history. It was there and then it wasn’t.
Even if you don’t like Northwestern, you have to feel for Northwestern.
EVANSTON, Ill. – Here’s a quick look at No. 1 Ohio State’s 58-57 win over Northwestern on Saturday.
How the game was won: Despite missing leading scorer John Shurna, Northwestern nearly pulled off the impossible against the top-ranked Buckeyes. After taking only a two-point lead into halftime, the Buckeyes appeared as they were going to run away with game in the second half, opening it on a 14-4 run. A Northwestern seven-point possession (a 3-pointer, an intentional foul, a free throw and another 3-pointer) put the Wildcats back in the game. Then they began knocking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. In one stretch late in the second half, they scored 15 of their 16 points on 3s. Northwestern went ahead 55-54 on a Michael Thompson 3-pointer with just under four minutes left. The teams went back and forth over the remaining minutes. With the game tied at 57-57 in the final minutes, Northwestern’s Alex Marcotullio directed a pass under the basket, but it was picked off by Ohio State’s David Lighty. The Buckeyes took the ball down court, dropped it down to Jared Sullinger, and he went to work. He was fouled with 3.5 seconds remaining, missed the first and swished the second. Northwestern’s Drew Crawford had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his half-court shot banged off the backboard and fell to the ground.
Play of the game: Freshman Sullinger has come through in the clutch plenty of times already in his young career, but his free-throw with 3.5 seconds for the game-winner may go down as his biggest shot so far.
Turning point: Ohio State was up by as many as 12 points in the second half. Northwestern found life when Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale committed an intentional foul while Thompson was making a 3-pointer. Davide Curletti sank one of two free, and Northwestern got the ball back. The Wildcats capitalized with another 3-pointer by JerShon Cobb. All of the sudden, Northwestern trailed by only five points.
Player of the game: Nothing new here, it was again freshman Sullinger. He scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked one shot and sank the game-winning free throw. It’s another player of the year type performance.
Northwestern player of the game: Michael Thompson had been cold in his past few games and was even quiet during the first half against Ohio State. In the second half, he was the reason the Wildcats fought back and nearly pulled off the upset. He scored 13 second-half points and finished with 16 points and eight assists.
Stat of the game: Northwestern wasn’t supposed to have the size advantage, but it found a way to outrebound Ohio State 22-18 overall and 8-2 on the offensive glass.
What the game means: Ohio State remains No. 1 for another week. Of course, it hasn’t been that easy for the Buckeyes. This was their sixth Big Ten game decided by five points or less. For Northwestern, it’s a tough one to swallow. This would have been the biggest win in the program’s history. Instead of beating No. 1 Ohio State and feeling great about itself, Northwestern has put itself in a difficult position moving forward. The Wildcats are 3-7 in the Big Ten and fell to 0-7 against ranked teams. Their NCAA tournament chances are diminishing.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- No John Shurna. Top-ranked Ohio State coming into town. A 10.5 point underdog. Winless against ranked opponents this season.
No chance for Northwestern on Saturday, right?
Someone forgot to tell the Wildcats.
Northwestern slowed the game down, limited everyone around Ohio State star freshman Jared Sullinger, even led at times and trailed by only 27-25 after one half at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday.
Without leading scorer Shurna, who continued to have concussion symptoms, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody’s strategy was to make the game a low-possession one, giving Ohio State as few chances with the ball as possible The Wildcats took their time possession after possession, often waiting until the shot clock reached single digits or was about to expire before shooting.
Shurna’s replacement Mike Capocci did his best Shurna impression. He had a team-high seven points in the first half. He also had three rebounds, one assist and one block.
As for Ohio State, Sullinger got his during the first half. He scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds. But the story was the other Buckeyes not getting theirs. Ohio State’s four other starters combined for nine points. If it wasn’t for reserve guard Aaron Craft’s eight points, Northwestern may have taken the halftime lead.
There’s still 20 minutes to play, but Northwestern has the biggest win in its program’s history in its sights.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- What don’t we want instant anymore?
College basketball has become no different. Where once it was about bringing in a talented player, nurturing him, developing him then watching him succeed in a few years time, it’s now become about recruiting that same talent and expecting him to grandly produce beginning with the opening tip. The thought is if you’re a McDonald’s All-American, you should have a chance at being a college All-American.
The thing is not every freshman is an instant star like Derrick Rose, John Wall or current freshman sensation Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger (by the way, whoa, was he good on Saturday in a 73-68 win over Illinois). Most are like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes or Illinois’ Jereme Richmond. They’re more like microwave popcorn. They’ll come out how you want them, but they need a few minutes to pop.
When I spoke with Richmond a month ago and asked about that pressure on him to excel quickly, he emphasized it was all about being patient. He was sure his time was coming, but he and everyone else had to wait for it.
Well, that wait finally appears to be over.It took Richmond half of his first season in Champaign, but he’s beginning to pop. Following a career-best 14 points and five rebounds in a win over Michigan State, Richmond took his game to an even higher level Saturday and was the reason the Illini had a chance against No. 1 Ohio State despite Demetri McCamey having his worst game of the season. Richmond scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Illinois’ 73-68 loss.
Outside of the numbers, Richmond has also regained his swagger. What partly made him so dominant and the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year at Waukegan High School was he always thought like he was the best player on the floor then he acted like it. Against Ohio State, he posted up strong. He called for the ball. He was often the one who spoke up in huddles. He even had that star player’s reaction – “Who me?” -- when a foul was called on him.
“He’s letting loose and playing,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
Illinois senior Mike Davis saw the difference, too.
“He’s more confident,” Davis said. “He’s demanding the ball, asking for the ball. He’s taking his time in the post. He has smaller guys on him, and that’s what he’s got to do, just take his time and go and score.”
Former Ohio State star and current Philadelphia 76ers rookie Evan Turner was just as impressed. He had tuned into Saturday’s game to watch his Buckeyes face his good friend McCamey, and he came away with a strong impression of Richmond.
“I think he’s really good,” Turner said. “He has a good body for a frosh, and he is really versatile. He’s going to get better and better as times goes on. He’s going to be a great player if he keeps developing his skills.”
Coincidentally, Richmond’s high school coach Ron Ashlaw was attending his first Illinois’ game of the season on Saturday. He had watched Richmond play on television but hadn’t seen him in person.
Ashlaw wasn’t surprised by Richmond’s slow start to his career.
“The basketball world has unreal expectations,” Ashlaw said. “I think he’s going to be a great player out here, and it’s starting to show up. [Today], it was like what he did for us. One possession he was the point guard and bringing the ball up. Another possession he’s posting someone up and is inches from the rim. He’s just so versatile.”
Richmond was less talkative about his own play afterward.
“I’m just kind of mad we lost right now,” Richmond said. “My comfort level has nothing to do with my focus in practice, my focus in ballgames. I’ll be OK. My teammates will be OK. We just got to get some more victories.”
With Richmond’s recent emergence, Illinois should be headed to more wins. The Illini’s problem this season has been their inconsistency outside of McCamey. Davis, Mike Tisdale, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have all had their nights, but they haven’t had them on a regular basis.
Richmond could be that missing piece to the season’s puzzle … just as everyone thought he would be.
The Buckeyes arrive to Champaign undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Illini have their perfect 10-0 home record to defend and are looking for revenge after Ohio State defeated them three times last season, including an overtime victory at the Big Ten tournament that ended Illinois’ NCAA tournament hopes.
Turner left school early after last season and was drafted No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.
“[Illinois-OSU is] probably still a rivalry,” McCamey said. “I don’t know if it’s as much trash talk. Me and him were probably doing the most."
Even for Turner, watching the game from home instead of playing in it will be different.
“It’s weird even being away from Ohio State,” Turner said on Friday night. “Not kind of having Demetri around and having a little bit of distance is weird. We both went to the same high school and both played in the same conference. Now, we’re at two different levels of basketball. I haven’t seen him a while. It’s definitely weird.”
McCamey nearly joined Turner in the NBA this season, but pulled his name out of the draft to return for his senior year. McCamey’s motivation was to help Illinois back to the NCAA tournament and boost his NBA stock.
McCamey’s decision has paid off as he’s improved in nearly every statistical category and is among ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford’s top 25 NBA prospects. McCamey is averaging 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists and is shooting .525 from 3-point range.
Turner has been impressed. He tweeted out recently to his 24,000-plus followers, “My boy demetri mccamey is arguably the best pg in college basketball. Just doesn't have the hype. He the real deal tho.”
Turner can’t wait until he and McCamey are both in the NBA. It’s something they used to talk about while playing together for St. Joseph High School and the Illinois Wolves, a club team, as teenagers.
“That’s going to be so cool,” Turner said. “It’s crazy, when he was a freshman and he was super good, and I wasn’t so good, I remember him telling everyone, ‘Me and Evan are going to make to the league. If he makes it, he’s going to take me. If I make it, I’m going to take him.’
“It’s funny being 16-year-olds and talking about that, and now that’s what’s going to happen. That’s us being really blessed and being around the right people.”
Turner’s first season in the NBA has been rocky. He had an 18-game span between Nov. 24 and Dec. 27 where he only scored in double figures once. Lately, he has found more of a rhythm. He scored 23 points against Phoenix in late December and had 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against Detroit earlier this month. He is averaging 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
McCamey has no doubt Turner’s best is yet to come.
“It’s just a good adjustment for him, the speed of the game, the time, the momentum, the coaching staff,”
McCamey said. “He’s in a little bit of transition and hopefully he can get back on track.”
Turner saw it in the same way.
“I’m all about paying my dues,” Turner said. “Sometimes it hasn’t meant to happen. Some of the shots I usually make aren’t going in. I keep working hard. That’s the best thing from coming up from the bottom. I’ve done it before.”
Turner has a shoot-around Saturday morning before playing Utah in the evening, but he’ll back home in time to watch the Illinois-Ohio State game. He hopes his good friend McCamey does well, but his prediction was an Ohio State victory.
“I’m a Buckeye, baby,” Turner said with a large laugh.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Back in August at the Big Ten Media Days, Illinois senior defensive lineman Clay Nurse sat at a circular table while surrounded by reporters and strongly defended his team when questioned about its past failures.
After allowing Nurse his say, he was asked, “But you do understand why there are criticisms?”
Nurse countered, “I understand the criticisms, but it doesn’t mean I have to listen to them.”
Where in most avenues of life, people benefit from being good listeners, Nurse and his teammates have succeeded by being awful ones. While the media and fans have harped upon Illinois’ dismal 2009 and predicted another disappointing season in Champaign, the Illini muted everyone outside of their program and held strong to a positive tone within their own doors. The message within was they could compete with any team in the country.
“Coach [Ron] Zook told us in the spring when we were about to start spring ball, all that matters is who’s in our locker room,” Illinois junior safety Trulon Henry said. “It doesn’t matter what these guys think or those guys think. All that matters is what’s in our locker room.”
So when Illinois hung with No. 2 Ohio State from the opening kickoff until the final minutes in a 24-13 loss on Saturday, the Illini weren’t shocked. They knew who was, though.
“I know you are all surprised,” Illinois Ron Zook said to the media after the game. “We’re not surprised. We expected to go in there and compete. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game. We expected to be in it in the end, and we were.”
That confidence and those expectations were displayed by Zook’s players from the opening drive on.
The game began with Illinois’ defense halting Ohio State and its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Terrelle Pryor on three consecutive plays, which included a sack by Nurse, and forced them to punt.
It was then Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s time to take the field. Being his first career Big Ten game and the first time he had faced a nationally-ranked opponent, Scheelhaase would have been forgiven if he had succumbed to the big-game nerves and struggled on his first drive.
Scheelhaase’s emotions led him to do just the opposite. He marched the Illini down the field 55 yards in nine plays and gave Illinois a 7-0 lead on the Buckeyes. On the drive, Scheelhaase threw for 14 yards, caught a pass for 23 yards during which he juked one defender and rushed for a three-yard touchdown.
“Obviously you’re excited about the opportunity to play a top team in the country. It’s not every day that you’re put in that position. It’s really a position that’s kind of unfamiliar to me coming from my high school days. We were never looked at as an underdog. It’s kind of feeling that got me going all week.”
Scheelhaase wasn’t content with just competing with Ohio State on Saturday. He felt the Illini had allowed a massive opportunity pass them by.
“The frustrating part is when you’re in a heavyweight bout with the No. 2 team in the country, and you get to the late rounds of the match, and you don’t find a way to get that knockout punch in. That’s kind of what we were looking for. We’re in there fighting it out, throwing punch for punch. That’s a rough feeling when you don’t come out in the end.”
Henry was just as disappointed. In his mind, he would rather have seen a lopsided score than the close one that actually occurred.
“That hurts more than being blown out,” Henry said. “When you think you got it and you got a hold of it and its slip out of there, you’re going to think about this all the way to Thursday.”
Much of Illinois’ postgame interviews involved discussion about moral victories and the positives the Illini could take away from competing with the nation’s No. 2 team.
When Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was asked his thoughts, he wasn’t so quick to jump on the happy band wagon. He wasn’t so sure playing in a tight game with Ohio State translated to future success for Illinois.
Koenning remembered what he felt like when he was cut as a player by the Denver Broncos. Shortly after, he had another opportunity with the Green Bay Packers, and he foresaw himself being cut again. Instead of sticking it through and seeing what actually would happen, Koenning opted to retire and not have to deal with that pain again.
“I don’t think that would have happened if the first one never happened,” Koenning said. “This team lost a lot of games last year. Everyone has the feeling of losing in their system, and that can be hard to get out. We have to start winning some of these games. We need to start finishing.”
That is something the Illini will likely listen to.