Chicago Colleges: United Center

Big Ten viewer’s guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
AM CT
Week 7 is here, and let’s not sugarcoat it: Big Ten football has looked more interesting on other weekends. This first Saturday of the season without nonconference action lacks marquee matchups. Still, the division races will continue to take shape.

Here’s a look at the five games (all times Eastern):

Noon

Illinois (3-3) and Wisconsin (3-2), ESPN2: Will Melvin Gordon run for 300 yards? If the Badgers wanted it to happen, Illinois’ 119th-ranked rushing defense would likely comply. More of the intrigue in Madison involves the quarterbacks. For Wisconsin, Joel Stave, who returned last week against Northwestern, will see time, in addition to Tanner McEvoy, who might also take a shot at receiver. And with Illinois’ Wes Lunt out with a fractured leg, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was set to redshirt, have competed in practice this week.

Indiana (3-2) and Iowa (4-1), ESPNU: Indiana has shown it can win on the road in tough spots, handing Missouri its lone loss on Sept. 20. The Hoosiers are more explosive on offense than any foe Iowa has faced. But Indiana still can’t defend well, in particular against proficient quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are going back to Jake Rudock at the start, but C.J. Beathard will play. How well can Greg Davis manage this? If it’s a disaster, Indiana might just find itself in the right place at the right time for an upset bid.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb and Minnesota can take a big step in their quest for a Western Division crown by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
Northwestern (3-2) at Minnesota (4-1), BTN: Who would have guessed a month ago, as the Golden Gophers fell flat at TCU and the Wildcats sat winless, that this game would have legitimate implications for the West Division title race? It does, with NU in quest of a third straight unexpected win to open league play. Its defense led the charge against Penn State and Wisconsin. Minnesota is simply solid, led by David Cobb, statistically the league’s most valuable offensive player. Minnesota has defended the pass especially well in recent games and will test Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, 13th in the Big Ten in QBR.

3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Michigan State (4-1) at Purdue (3-3), ESPN2: At least it’s not the best team in the Big Ten against the worst. Purdue escaped the low spot last week with a win over Illinois. And sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby looked good in the victory. Very good, in fact. Back at home, he figures to find a much more difficult situation against the Spartans, who might come in a bit angry after nearly blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

7 p.m.

Penn State (4-1) at Michigan (2-4), ESPN2: The visitors from Happy Valley, after an off week, get an opportunity to show that their anemic performance against Northwestern was just a fluke. With an upcoming stretch of three challenging games, no better time exists for PSU to get healthy than at Michigan, trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in the Big Ten since 1965. Against a good Penn State front, the Wolverines must protect Devin Gardner and throw the football, neither of which they’ve done well in recent weeks.

Required reading

Abrams' new mindset leads to career day

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
6:39
PM CT
CHICAGO -- Something changed in Illinois sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams from the time he went home for Christmas to when he returned to campus this week.

[+] EnlargeTracy Abrams
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTracy Abrams had a career-high 27 points against Auburn. Perhaps more impressive: He turned the ball over just once.
In the few days of practice leading up to Saturday’s game against Auburn, Illinois coach John Groce began to see Abrams play with a different speed and mentality than he ever did.

“Have you ever read the book ‘112 degrees’?” Groce asked Saturday. “It’s when water boils. All of a sudden two days ago, it started boiling for him.”

What the Illini had seen the past few days, Abrams displayed to the public in the Illini’s 81-79 win over Auburn at the United Center. Playing fast and determined, Abrams had a career-high 27 points to go along with eight rebounds, five assists, one turnover and four steals in 35 minutes.

Abrams didn’t have those numbers in mind coming into the game, but he did tell himself and others he was going to take it to Auburn from the tip.

“He came out with the mindset, ‘I’m going to attack,’” Illinois sophomore center Nnanna Egwu said. “He even told me before the game he was going to attack and come out aggressive. He did a great job.”

Abrams didn’t provide an explanation for why his game changed. It was just something he felt he and the team needed.

“I was just pushing the ball more than I think I did any other game this season,” said Abrams, a Chicago native. “We’ve been pushing the ball a lot in practice, and I wanted to start the game off like that. I just took what they gave me, just going to the hole.”

The aggressive nature delighted Groce, but he was even more pleased with Abrams’ decision-making. He drove when Auburn gave him a lane. He found teammates when they were open. He didn’t take risks.

Abrams had committed at least three turnovers in eight of Illinois’ first 13 games and was averaging 2.9 turnovers.

“Five assists, one (turnover) playing 35 minutes against a team that’s top 50 in the country in forcing turnovers, I thought he did an excellent job taking care of the ball,” Groce said. “I think it’s more finding that balance between attacking when it’s there for yourself and attacking and seeing what they give you and how you can make guys better. I thought the last 2-3 days of practice and including today he’s done that at the highest level all season.”

Finding that balance between looking for himself to score and creating opportunities for others has been a focus for Abrams when working with Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker.

“That’s what he has to do,” Walker said. “That’s something all point guards in American struggle with until they figure it out. That’s important to his development moving forward this year and the next few years.”

While Abrams has room to grow in that area, his toughness and determination are already where Groce wants them to be. That showed with the game on the line on Saturday.

After Auburn pulled within one point with 4:28 remaining, Abrams did all he could to make sure Illinois and its seniors won in Chicago for the first time in four years. In the final four minutes, Abrams scored seven points, hit 7 of 8 free throws, grabbed three rebounds and had one steal.

“How about a couple of those (rebounds) he dug out late?” Groce said. “He’s in there battling with trees. He’s a tough dude. He is. He’s a tough dude. He’s a tough dude. He’s working on getting better at some things, but when you coach him, you never ever question that kid’s toughness. I mean he’s a tough dude.”

5 Thoughts: Maybe Illini should skip UC

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
4:48
PM CT
[+] EnlargeSam Maniscalco
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Illini continued to fall at the United Center on Saturday.
Here are five college basketball thoughts to chew on for Monday.

1. Illinois' struggles at the United Center are head-scratching. It's not even that the Illini have lost five of their last six games there, but it's more how they've played overall in recent years. Last year's loss to UIC and this year's to UNLV were two of the worst offensive showings by an Illinois team during Bruce Weber's tenure. The offense looked out of sync throughout Saturday's game. I know playing in Chicago is a way of allowing the city's large alumni base be able to see the team locally and a great recruiting tool, but it may not be worth having the game there annually if it's going to result in one of Illinois' worst performances each season. Fans booed Illinois late in Saturday's loss. That can't be good for anyone.

2. It's hard to believe DePaul sophomore Brandon Young isn't one of the best 65 point guards in the country. Sixty-five players were named nominees for the Bob Cousy Award on Monday, and Young didn't make the cut. He should have. He has the ability and numbers to back that up. He's averaging 17.5 points, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals.

3. Northwestern's next seven games could very well decide its season. The Wildcats face six ranked opponents in their next seven games. They have No. 21 Creighton, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 25 Illinois, No. 19 Michigan, No. 20 Michigan State and No. 14 Wisconsin. By Jan. 18, we should have a pretty good idea whether Northwestern is headed to its first NCAA tournament or not.

4. As a state, Illinois isn't shooting the ball too well right now. Northern Illinois ranks 344th in the country with a .343 shooting percentage. Southern Illinois is 343rd at .356. Chicago State is 318th at .388. UIC is 295th at .398. Loyola is 283rd at .404. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville is 253rd at .413. No one in the state ranks in the top 50 in shooting percentage. Eastern Illinois is the best at .464, which ranks 74th. DePaul is next at 80th with .462.

5. Within the state, Northwestern's John Shurna is averaging the most point (19.5); Western Illinois' Terell Parks leads in rebounding (10.1); Western Illinois' Ceola Clark leads in assists (5.2); Bradley's Dyricus Simms-Edwards leads in steals (2.1); and Illinois' Meyers Leonard leads in blocks (2.5).

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