College Basketball Nation: Rayvonte Rice

Weekend Homework: The Illini mess

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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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
11/05/13
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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 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.
As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team in the Missouri Valley:

Bradley

Best-case: Geno Ford inherited a massive rebuilding project last season, and it showed on the court. The Braves finished 7-25 overall and 2-16 in the Missouri Valley. This season, Ford is adding just two players (unranked recruit Ka'Darryl Bell and little-touted juco transfer Tyshon Pickett) to a roster missing obvious breakout candidates or young talent. Still, Ford will have had an entire season and the summer to work with his players. This best-case scenario is less about wins and losses than about establishing a system and building positive steps for the future. It's a long way up from here.

Worst-case: Bradley's offense fails to improve. Per Ken Pomeroy, the Braves ranked No. 301 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 321 in effective field goal percentage, No. 318 in offensive rebounding rate and Nos. 300 and 320 in 2-point and 3-point field goal percentage. All of those things have to improve, and significantly so, to fend off an ugly repeat of 2012.

Creighton

Best-case: A deep NCAA tournament run. That's the expectation, and it should be, because Creighton returns 2012's most lethal offensive player, forward Doug McDermott. McDermott was peerless as a sophomore, averaging 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds on 60.1 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from beyond the arc. The rest of the Bluejays' supporting cast (except point guard Antoine Young) is back, and there's no reason to expect 2012's fifth-most efficient offense to regress now. If anything, it's going to improve, and Creighton will be the MVC title favorite and an Elite Eight-type threat come March.

Worst-case: The defense doesn't improve. We know CU is going to score; we know McDermott is going to pour in the points. What we don't know is whether the Jays can stop anyone. They didn't last year, ranking No. 178 in adjusted defensive efficiency overall and eighth in Valley play. That weakness held this high-flying offense back last season, and the worst case scenario in 2012-13 is another year of brilliant scoring with little in the way of defense to back it up. "Defense wins championships" is a cliché because it's true.

Drake

Best-case: The Bulldogs have quietly hovered around the .500 mark in the four years since Mark Phelps took over for Keno Davis. Will 2012-13 be the year they get over the hump? The transfer of Rayvonte Rice (who averaged 16.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season) sure didn't help, but versatile forward Ben Simons (a 6-foot-8, 42.5 percent 3-point shooter) does return, supported by a cast of capable returners and seven newcomers, including two juco transfers.

Worst-case: It's easy to see this team taking a step back without Rice. If Simons and Jordan Clarke have similar seasons to 2012, that's all well and good, but it's not clear that that will be enough to lift Drake out of the 18-win region and into legitimate MVC contention. The worry is that Drake simply is what it is.

Evansville

Best-case: The name Colt Ryan might not mean much even to most die-hard fans, but Ryan had a very good junior season for the Purple Aces both as an efficient scorer and a turnover-averse assist man. The 2012-13 season will be Ryan's last, so he'll need help from junior guards Ned Cox and Troy Taylor as well as 6-8 forward Ryan Sawvell, who scored at a tidy pace and rebounded the ball effectively in limited minutes as a freshman. The most optimistic projection involves a big coming-out party for Sawvell as a sophomore, which helps lift Evansville out of last season's 16-win, 9-9 MVC territory.

Worst-case: Even slight improvement from the aforementioned regulars isn't enough to vault the Aces out of the middle of the MVC chase. It's hard to see this team regressing, but there is no guarantee it can live in the same neighborhood as Creighton and Wichita State.

Illinois State

Best-case scenario: The last time Illinois State went to the NCAA tournament (1998), its new coach, longtime Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller, was completing his still-standing record of 128 consecutive starts for the program. Now he's back to build on former coach Tim Jankovich's sporadic progress, and he has a chance to succeed right away. Leading scorer Jackie Carmichael (who finished fifth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, by the way) is back, as is impressive sophomore Jon Ekey, along with the rest of a starting five that went 9-9 in the MVC and 21-14 overall. If Muller can get his new charges on the same page from day one, there's good reason to expect ISU to contend for an NCAA tournament bid.

Worst-case scenario: Adapting a group of veteran players to a new head coach is always a murky proposition. When the process goes well, you get the 2012 Missouri Tigers. When it doesn't, things can degenerate quickly. This will be the defining challenge of Muller's first season.

Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Missouri Valley, click here.
1. The National Association of Basketball Coaches' board of directors is meeting in Indianapolis on Thursday, with the issue of transfers and how to handle the requests as a primary agenda item. The board has some notable names, including Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who was involved in a high-profile case in which the player was initially restricted from transferring to a number of schools; Michigan State’s Tom Izzo; Pitt’s Jamie Dixon; Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim; Notre Dame’s Mike Brey; and NC State’s Mark Gottfried, among others. The NABC doesn’t have legislative power but does serve as a lobbying group to the membership -- and can also influence other coaches on how to handle a transfer situation.

2. The men's NCAA tournament basketball selection committee will also meet Thursday in Indianapolis. The primary agenda item, according to incoming chair Mike Bobinski of Xavier, is to determine the 2013 East Regional site. The finalists are expected to be Syracuse and Brooklyn (Newark, N.J., is still technically in, but it would be a surprise since the regional was there in 2011). Bobinski said it is unusual for the site still to be unknown less than a year before the event. The dismissal of former NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen apparently contributed to the site selection delay; Shaheen’s replacement, Mark Lewis, will be at the meeting. The original plan was for the tourney’s 75th anniversary to have a presence at Madison Square Garden. But the NCAA couldn’t make a commitment before the Garden had to turn in its Knicks and Rangers schedules to the NBA and NHL, respectively. The 2013 Final Four is in Atlanta. The other regional sites are set in Los Angeles (Staples Center), Dallas-Fort Worth (Cowboys Stadium) and Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium)

3. New Illinois coach John Groce has added two transfers in Rayvonte Rice from Drake and Sam McLaurin from Coastal Carolina. The Illini are also busy finalizing their last major non-conference game. Illinois will play Auburn on Dec. 29 at the United Center in Chicago to fill the final significant game on the schedule.
Editor's Note: For Myron's recap of Saturday's afternoon action, click here.

More Saturday games. More drama. A weekend slate that wasn’t supposed to offer much ultimately produced an impressive collection of games. Saturday night only added to the excitement.

Washington 69, Arizona 67

This game might have been a preview of the vibe we’ll see in the Pac-12 tournament. Not one team in this league can feel secure about its NCAA tournament hopes, but the conference's collective downfall does make for plenty of must-win drama.

Consider this: Between the 14:16 and 2:28 marks of the second half, Arizona recorded exactly one field goal. And yet, with two minutes to play, this was just a six-point game. Solomon Hill’s 3-pointer with 9 seconds to play tied the game at 67. He was awesome, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. But while he made nine of his 10 shots, the rest of team went 12-of-40 (30 percent) from the field.

And after Hill's big bucket, Josiah Turner committed a huge foul on C.J. Wilcox, who hit a pair of free throws before freshman Tony Wroten blocked Turner’s layup at the buzzer. The Pac-12 is certainly down. But it’s also a very scrappy league right now because of the uncertainty. Arizona was bad for a chunk of this game, but the Wildcats kept coming -- because, well, it's UA-UW and these matchups are always dramatic.

The Huskies, who lead the Pac-12 at 7-2, scored a crucial road win, while Zona’s at-large hopes took another major blow with its third home loss of the season. Fun game.

No. 21 Virginia 61, North Carolina State 60

The Cavaliers led 55-45 with 6:37 on the clock, but barely held on here. The Wolfpack was sloppy for the bulk of this game and finished just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. Near the five-minute mark, Alex Johnson missed three shots on one possession. He botched a layup on a fast break, then missed a contested follow-up and a 3-pointer. It was that kind of evening for the Pack.

But they bounced back and chipped away at Virginia’s lead. They outscored UVa 15-5 in the final six minutes of the game and Scott Wood hit a late 3 to close the gap to 1. The Cavs missed a jumper in the final seconds so NC State had a chance to tie on the last possession, but Virginia’s defense clamped down on Lorenzo Brown, whose 3-point attempt at the buzzer was way off.

The Cavs continue to find ways to win and force teams to play their grind-it-out style of basketball. Mike Scott (18 points) certainly helped, but Virginia was outrebounded 42-25 -- it gave up more offensive boards (18) than it had defensive boards (17)! -- and still pulled out the win. The Cavaliers' 17th victory gives them one more than all of last season.

That’s certainly something to be proud of, but I’m not sold on the Cavs as a team that will do damage in the NCAA tournament. Not with struggles against Towson, a bad home loss against Virginia Tech and other so-so efforts this season. Their finish against NC State on Saturday showcased some of this team’s flaws.

No. 20 Saint Mary’s 80, BYU 66

Wait, wasn't this supposed to be the weekend that the Gaels fell in West Coast Conference play? As impressive as SMC's 8-0 start in the WCC was, there was a palpable buzz that suggested the Gaels' success was directly linked to the fact that they played five of their first eight conference games at home, including routs of BYU and Gonzaga.

A rematch with Brigham Young on the road -- the Marriott Center is one of the most challenging venues in the country -- spelled doom. Right? But Saint Mary’s truly separated itself from the rest of the league with a 14-point victory that really wasn't even that close, despite SMC's heavy turnover total (24). It was a scrappy game both on the floor and off it -- fans threw things onto the court at one point as the Cougars lost back-to-back home games for the first time ever under Dave Rose. Four Gaels recorded double-figure point totals, led by Brad Waldow (19 points, 8 rebounds). I already can't wait for that Saint Mary's-Gonzaga game in Spokane.

Some more observations from Saturday night ...
  • Oh Dayton, you confusing Atlantic 10 contender (pretender?). From Dec. 7 through Jan. 7, the Flyers won seven of eight games, including victories over Alabama, Ole Miss, Saint Louis and Temple. They’ve now lost three of five after Saturday’s 86-81 home loss to … wait for it … Rhode Island (4-18, 1-6 Atlantic 10). That’s not OK. What a wacky league. Xavier, Saint Louis and Dayton, three teams expected to emerge from the crowd, all have three conference losses as La Salle, St. Bonaventure and UMass (a very impressive winner over the Billikens on Saturday) share the conference lead. The A-10 seems as wide open and as unpredictable as any league in the country. Who can call it right now? Not me.
  • The last time Minnesota and Illinois faced off, the Gophers lost to the Illini in double overtime in Champaign. On Saturday, Minnesota got its revenge with a 77-72 OT win at the Barn. After losing their first four conference games, the Gophers have won four of their past five. They’re a young team with limited depth, but Tubby Smith has coached this team extremely well in this five-game stretch.
  • It was a huge night in Conference USA as the league's top four teams squared off. What we learned is that Memphis and Southern Miss, which play each other Wednesday in Hattiesburg, are the conference's co-favorites. Behind a career-high 29 from Will Barton, the Tigers rallied in the second half for a hard-fought home win against Marshall. The Golden Eagles also had a huge second half to win in Orlando, where UCF had won 16 straight (including a recent victory over Memphis). Neil Watson and Kentucky transfer Darnell Dodson combined for 45 points as Larry Eustachy's underrated squad improved to 19-3. Yes, 19-3.
  • Think the Mountain West is a pushover? No. 15 UNLV needed overtime to dismiss Boise State on the road and the Rebels needed an extra period again Saturday, when they beat Air Force 65-63. AFA is ranked 156th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings and Vegas is 17th, but these two squads were even on the scoreboard until the closing seconds. But the Falcons committed two turnovers in the last 15 seconds of the contest and squandered their chances to win this one late. Still, it was more evidence that the Mountain West is deeper than it appears to be on the surface. Mike Moser continued his destructive streak with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Oklahoma scored a key road when it beat No. 24 Kansas State 63-60. The Sooners pressured the Wildcats, who committed 20 turnovers. Frank Martin has been preaching defense, but K-State didn’t have much against Steven Pledger, who scored 30 points. The Wildcats have lost three of their past six. Meanwhile, this had to be a satisfying win for Lon Kruger, who used to play and coach in Manhattan. What a great job he's done in his first year in Norman.
  • Seton Hall looked like an NCAA tournament team after it followed a blowout road loss at Syracuse with a four-game winning streak. But the Pirates have lost their past four and looked lackluster in a 60-51 home defeat to Louisville. Boy, that surprising season turned sour really quick, didn't it?
  • Speaking of New Jersey, how strange is this Rutgers season? After Saturday's victory over Cincinnati, the young Scarlet Knights now have wins over Florida, Connecticut and the Bearcats ... and losses to DePaul, Illinois State, Princeton and a down Richmond team.
  • Wichita State and Drake took a combined 149 shots in their triple-overtime thriller Saturday night. The Bulldogs outplayed the Shockers and deserved their 93-86 victory. Kraidon Woods’ layup for Drake sent the game into the first extra period and Rayvonte Rice hit a pair of late free throws to take the game into a second overtime. Drake’s Kurt Alexander and Wichita State’s Ben Smith traded late 3s in the second extra period to send the game into a third OT. In that third overtime, Drake scored the first five points and WSU couldn’t close the gap. The Shockers suffered their first loss since New Year’s Eve, but this is still a quality team. Wichita State is now one game behind Creighton in the MVC. Let's all count down to that Feb. 11 rematch in Omaha.

Drake suspends two after shoplifting arrest

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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Drake guard Rayvonte Rice, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, has been suspended indefinitely along with teammate Kurt Alexander after they were arrested Wednesday and charged with shoplifting, according to the Des Moines Register.

Rice averaged 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds and was named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference honorable mention and freshman team. He also led the Bulldogs in steals and blocked shots.

"We are aware that two members of our men's basketball team face allegations of petty shoplifting," athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb said in a statement to the paper. "The decision made by these young men is not reflective of the expectations of character and responsibility to which we hold all student-athletes."

The suspensions came after second-leading returning scorer Seth VanDeest had shoulder surgery in July that could force him to miss the season. Alexander is a senior, and another senior, forward Kraidon Woods, was also left off the team's recent tour of Australia and New Zealand because of academics.

The legal trouble for Rice is especially troubling, considering he is one of the bright young stars of the MVC. In Australia and New Zealand, he led the team again, averaging 20.5 points and five rebounds. It was only last September when President Obama praised a recruiting class headlined by Rice at a meet-and-greet at the home of Hatfield Clubb.

It was only a couple weeks ago when the team was relaxing in Sydney. Now the Bulldogs have a new issue to deal with.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register reports Alexander and Rice allegedly shoplifted $50 worth of athletic socks.

Obama discusses Drake recruiting

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
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President Barack Obama recently had a speaking engagement in a Des Moines, Iowa backyard that made headlines for the pointed questions he fielded, but he also got a chance during the event to show off his college basketball knowledge.

The event took place at the house of Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb, and according to the Des Moines Register, coach Mark Phelps and two of his players got the opportunity to speak with the President personally.
"I came over and introduced myself and he then asked what I did and I told him I was the basketball coach," Phelps said. "And he said, "That's what I thought. I've heard some things about your team -- I've heard you've got some outstanding recruiting classes coming in. Your boss (Clubb) has been talking about you.'"

Yes, President Obama is knowledgeable about how recruiting is going for the Missouri Valley Conference school. And there's good reason for this year's class getting the seal of approval.

Rayvonte Rice, ESPNU's No. 89-ranked small forward, was the runner-up for Mr. Basketball in Obama's home state of Illinois.

Phelps' freshman class also includes No. 42-ranked point guard Karl Madison and No. 52-ranked small forward Jeremy Jeffers. Kraidon Woods, a 6-foot-8 forward, is able to play immediately after transferring from Binghamton.

So things are looking up for Drake coming off a 14-19 season. They're even on Obama's radar.

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