Chicago Colleges: Rayvonte Rice

Weekend Homework: The Illini mess

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
Perhaps Illinois fooled us.

For a stretch in December, John Groce’s program rattled off a promising winning streak. Victories over Missouri, Illinois-Chicago, Indiana and Penn State suggested that the program had gathered momentum after welcoming a variety of new faces.

But Illinois hasn’t been the same since Wisconsin buried it with a 20-0 run during a 95-70 loss in Madison on Jan. 8. A loss at Northwestern, ranked 170th by Ken Pomeroy, followed. Then, the program stumbled again in a 66-58 home loss to Purdue on Wednesday.

“It’s just unacceptable,” Groce told reporters following the loss. “They [Purdue] were tougher than us physically and they threw us around like a bunch of rag dolls. Our guys better figure out very quickly the physical toughness that’s required on the backboard.”

Through Thursday, Illinois is shooting 35.6 percent from the field (last in the Big Ten) and 25.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (12th in the Big Ten) in conference play.

And if that hole isn’t daunting enough, Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State will kick off a brutal five-game stretch that includes road matchups against Ohio State and Indiana, plus a pair of games against contenders Iowa and Wisconsin.

This 2-3 Big Ten start could conceivably morph into a 2-6 or 2-7 stretch.

There were certainly concerns about Illinois entering the season. Transfers Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey, a batch of talented freshmen and veterans Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand were charged with coming together and building a bond on the floor in time to compete in the toughest league in America.

The win over Indiana on New Year’s Eve suggested that they were ready for that. This streak, however, has sent the team in the other direction.

Illinois has to get back on a positive path, or this season could be a disaster.

There’s certainly a correlation between the team’s struggles and Rice’s struggles. He’s 12-for-41 in this three-game losing streak. Abrams has gone 14-for-39.

Illinois won’t recover unless its top two players are effective. But it’s bigger than that.

Something definitely has to change soon.

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.

Five potential impact transfers in Illinois

November, 2, 2013
Here’s a look at five college basketball transfers who could be impact players for Illinois programs this season:

Kelsey Barlow, UIC, guard, redshirt senior
Barlow, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, has the potential to be one of the top players in the Horizon League this season. He sat out last season after transferring from Purdue. He started 22 games for the Boilermakers during the 2011-12 season and averaged 8.3 pints, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists.

Milton Doyle, Loyola, guard, redshirt freshman
Doyle, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, departed Kansas after a short period and transferred to Loyola. He sat out last season. He is dealing with an injury now, but he is expected to contribute for the Ramblers when healthy this season. He averaged 19 points, five assists and five steals as a high school senior at Marshall in Chicago.

Sandi Marcius, DePaul, forward, redshirt senior
Marcius, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward, utilized the NCAA’s graduate student waiver rule and transferred to DePaul from Purdue for his final season. Marcius should provide the Blue Demons some needed interior play. He led Purdue in blocks six times and rebounds once last season. He had 10 rebounds, including six offensive, and two blocks in the Blue Demons’ win over Lewis on Tuesday.

Rayvonte Rice, Illinois, guard, redshirt junior
Rice, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, should be able to help the Illini replace the scoring void left by D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul. Rice sat out last season after transferring from Drake. He was a second-team All-Missouri Valley pick for the 2011-2012 season and led Drake with 16.8 points per game.

Jordan Threloff, Northern Illinois, center, redshirt junior
Threloff, 6-foot-9, 255-pound center, received a waiver and is eligible this season after transferring from Illinois State. He wasn’t used a whole lot with the Redbirds, but he should have a bigger role at Northern Illinois. He was one of the state’s better big men coming out of high school and is believed to have a lot of upside left. He redshirted his first year at Illinois State.

Drake's Rice transferring to Illinois

April, 25, 2012
Drake shooting guard Rayvonte Rice announced Wednesday he will transfer to Illinois.

Rice, a 6-4, 240-pound guard, chose the Illini over Xavier. Rice grew up in Champaign, Ill. and attended Champaign Centennial High School.

Read the entire story.

Drake SG Rice considering Illinois

April, 10, 2012
Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, is considering Illinois among a number of other schools, according to his former AAU coach Mike Weinstein.

Weinstein said Rice is looking at Illinois, Kansas State, Marquette, Missouri, Nebraska, Purdue, Virginia, USC and Xavier as possible destinations after announcing recently he will transfer after his sophomore season at Drake. Rice, who played at Centennial High School in Champaign, Ill., averaged 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds this season for Drake.

“He wants to play on a bigger stage,” Weinstein said Tuesday. “He wants to get better. He’s excited about it.”

Weinstein said Rice is trying to narrow his choices and determine which schools to visit.



Thursday, 11/27
Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29