Illini

Even though I’d like to consider myself far more than a casual observer of Illinois basketball, click I’ve had an issue this season: More often than not, search I don’t recognize the players on the court.

Nearly every game I find myself saying, generic “Wait, who’s that?!” at least once, as a mysterious new player starts the game or drives to the hoop.

In my defense, Illinois has four freshmen (including one red-shirt) and quite a few new transfers who have been getting some playing time. Also, Coach John Groce isn’t exactly making it easy on us fans to get to know the players, so to speak: He has used nine different starting lineups in 10 regular season games, including the one pictured at the top of this post.

Let’s compare that to, say, Michigan State, a team that is not only an in-conference rival but also the No. 1 team in the nation: By my count, Coach Tom Izzo has used just two different starting lineups in 10 games, and the starters haven’t changed since the Spartans’ second game.

(Admittedly, choosing MSU as a comparison may not be entirely fair — they are the best team in the NCAA currently, and haven’t been plagued with injuries like Illinois has so far this season.)

But speaking as an observer, not having a go-to set of players can make it difficult to get fully behind the team. And, for the players, I imagine it would be difficult to build chemistry.

But maybe switching up lineups has become par for the course for Illinois-based sports. Coach Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks has been switching up lines trying to find a spark, according to the Chicago Tribune, and Joe Maddon didn’t shy away from changing an order or two for the Cubs last season.

In Champaign, Coach Groce is clearly still searching for a winning combination. From his presser Tuesday:

The Illini improved to 5-5 with a win over Yale last night. Perhaps that starting lineup hit the sweet spot and will stick?

We’ll find out Saturday, as the Illini travel to Chicago to take on UIC in the United Center.

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Even though more than a week has passed since our Thanksgiving turkey feasts, sick I’m just now getting back into the swing of things after being off the grid for a while and having to recover from some awful-looking Illini basketball.

The orange and blue completely collapsed on themselves in the second half Wednesday night against Notre Dame during what is one of my favorite events: The Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

This annual event pits teams from the Big Ten and the ACC against one another, viagra and the winning conference gets to take home the Commissioner’s Cup. The ACC won the first 10 Challenges, there but the B1G had won four of the last six through 2014, according to the Big Ten.

And this year, the Big Ten notched its fifth Challenge victory, winning eight of the 14 matchups.

The ACC winners:

  • Wake Forest (over Rutgers)
  • #10 UVA (over OSU)
  • #21 Miami (over Nebraska)
  • #9 UNC (over #2 Maryland)
  • Notre Dame (over Illinois)
  • #7 Duke (over Indiana)

And the Big Ten winners:

  • Minnesota (over Clemson)
  • Michigan (over NC State)
  • Northwestern (over Virginia Tech)
  • #11 Purdue (over Pitt)
  • #3 Michigan State (over #24 Louisville)
  • Wisconsin (over #14 Syracuse)
  • Penn State (over Boston College)
  • Iowa (over FSU)

The Iowa win was especially dramatic, as the Hawkeyes needed to beat Florida State for the B1G to clench a Challenge victory, and it went into overtime. As you can see here, the Iowa fans were…nervous?

But Iowa came out on top in the end, taking down the Seminoles 78-75. So even though the Illini couldn’t get it done, and the Big 10 has just three teams currently in the AP top 25 and the ACC has six, the Midwestern conference still came out on top.

And, speaking of ranked teams losing to unranked upstarts, UCLA just took down the previously undefeated, #1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats Thursday night.

Fun fact from when these two teams faced off last year:

My, how the tables turned. That’s why I love college basketball.

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Category: NCAA

Basketball season hit Chicago yesterday with a bang, generic with the Bulls taking down the Cavs with a two-point win and President Obama’s motorcade messing with traffic during rush hour to get down to the United Center.

But before the Bulls kicked things off at the UC in Chicago, the Illini tipped off earlier in the week at the other UC — the Ubben court in Champaign. The men’s basketball team hosted what they called the #IlliniALLIN team scrimmage in front of a small crowd on Sunday in their practice facility.

Check out this post-event video put together by the fine folks of Fighting Illini Athletics.

 

Those in attendance have been raving about a new face on the team, transfer graduate student Mike Thorne Jr., who joined the orange and blue is year from Charlotte. Take a look at the rave review from the News-Gazette.

Taking a look at the scrimmage’s box score, the numbers tell the story. Thorne had a team-high 15 points, tallied one assist and racked up some blocked shots.

Four more things to know about Thorne:

  • He’s 6’11” and weighs 270
  • He was Charlotte’s third leading scorer, averaging 10.1 points per game
  • He led his team in rebounding, averaging a little over 7 rebounds per game
  • He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and is enrolled at Illinois in master’s program in education policy, organization and leadership

We’ll all just have to wait and see if the hype on Thorne from an ultimately meaningless, Illini-on-Illini battle carries through when it’s the real thing, but it is nice to have a glimmer of hope for the season when it this injury-riddled Illinois squad.

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I did something that was new for me this winter, sale everyone. It was a little painful and I don’t really like to talk about it…I watched quite a few NIT Tournament games.

I put myself through that for a few reasons — I love college basketball, buy viagra so why not watch more of it, cheap my Illini were involved, and I wanted to see how, if at all, the rule changes the NCAA was testing out would affect game play.

The 2015 NIT Tournament tested out some potential rule changes for college basketball. Namely, the post-season tournament used a 30-second shot clock (as opposed to 35 seconds) and a larger arc under the basket (3 feet as opposed to 4).

I wasn’t pleased with the NIT in general this year (the Illini lost in embarrassing fashion in the first round to Alabama), but NCAA officials must have liked what they saw overall, as those rules, along with a few other changes, will become a reality for all men’s basketball games this season.

According to the NCAA, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the following changes for the 2015-16 Division I season:

  • Shortening shot clock from 35 seconds to 30
  • Expanding restricted-area arc from 3 feet to 4 feet
  • Reducing time to replace a disqualified player from 20 to 15 seconds
  • Eliminating one timeout in the second half
  • Instituting penalties for players faking fouls
  • Removing ability for coaches to call a timeout during a live ball
  • Changing media timeout rules so any timeout called by a team within 30 seconds of a scheduled timeout becomes the media timeout
  • Allowing referees to review on the monitor for shot clock violations throughout the game
  • Changing shots for Class B technical fouls from two to one
  • Eliminating the five-seconded closely guarded rule
  • Allowing dunks during warmups

So how will all these changes affect the game? It will speed it up, for one, as several of the rule changes (shot clock, timeout changes) were made to improve the pace of play.

The shorter shot clock is most intriguing, as stats from the 2015 NIT tournament (broken down by Ken Pomeroy) suggest that it will lead to more scoring. Mr. Pomeroy also suggests that we may also see more three-point attempts, since the shorter clock may lead players to throw up desperate shots to avoid a violation.

We might also see more zone defense thanks to the shorter shot clock, according to Brian Mull at NCAA.com.

I can get on board with most of these rule changes, even though the prospect of shorter games is kind of sad (I personally would like to spend as much time as possible watching college basketball), but one rule I’m a little sad to see go is the no-dunking-20-minutes-before-tipoff rule. Pregame dunking used to be a Class B technical foul, meaning the other team would get two free shots before the clock even starts.

This weird rule (which SB Nation explains thoroughly) has actually been a game-changer. For instance, last season, a player on North Florida dunked during warmups, resulting in Tennessee Tech getting two free throws. North Florida went on to lose that game — by two points (see the story from Deadspin).

Even though we will miss out on sagas like that of North Florida vs. Tennessee Tech, maybe we can look forward to entertaining dunk fests before the real action starts. And that, in itself, could be make the change worthwhile.

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big ten 4

New York Fashion Week wrapped up last week, buy but models in NY weren’t the only people strutting their stuff this September — some Big Ten basketball teams got in on the runway action as well. Three teams unveiled new uniforms for the 2015-16 season recently.

Michigan State has new uniforms from Nike, ambulance seen below courtesy of a BTN.com editor’s tweet. MSU’s jerseys don’t appear to have changed too much. I don’t miss the green around the collar now that it’s gone, rx and the shorts look good from what’s visible.

So, MSU played it pretty safe. I’ll be interested to see the green jerseys that will come out of East Lansing during the season.

Next up we have Michigan, a school with Adidas jerseys. The Wolverines seem a little prouder of their new look than the Spartans did theirs, as they bragged about it on Twitter earlier this month. Take a look for yourself:

The tops are fine, but…who decided the stripe on the shorts was a good look?! Maybe their goal is to distract the other team with hideous shorts to gain some sort of advantage. I’m also curious to see what Adidas did to the blue uniform shorts as well — bright maize stripes? Poor, poor fans in Ann Arbor who have to look at that each week.

However, on what is probably a positive note for Wolverine fans, U-M signed a contract with Nike that will go into effect Aug. 1, 2016, according to a MLive report.

Lastly, we have the mighty Badgers, who are entering what could be Bo Ryan’s last season coaching in Madison.

I, for one, think these jerseys are pretty sharp and worthy to be worn by the defending B1G champs. Adidas didn’t do too badly here (but perhaps my bar was set a little low when compared to Michigan). Compared to last year, it looks like more red on the collar and on the shorts. These three schools are the only ones going through a makeover of sorts this off-season. According the Big Ten Network Purdue and Nebraska will have their own fashion shows with new basketball uniforms in the near future. And, even though Illinois hasn’t revealed new basketball jerseys (and likely won’t this year, since they just got new Nike duds as part of the rebrand last year), Illini fans do get to look forward to something new this season: A whole new home court in a completely overhauled State Farm Center. Check out the new logo on the court:

Do you have thoughts on the teams’ new looks? Sound off in the comments.

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Pink's Pulse

Missed a few headlines this week? Worry not, viagra  I’ve got my finger on the sports pulse for you. Below is my weekly round-up of what’s trending in sports: perfect for water coolers, cocktail parties, sports bars and board rooms.

HOT

  • Bruins/Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals tied at 2-2: Even though Game 4 was not an elimination game, I considered it a must-win for the Chicago Blackhawks. Brent Seabrook, yet again, showed up in overtime to lead the team to victory. The final two/three games of the NHL season are upon us, and the Blackhawks need us now more than ever. If a banged-up Hossa can get an assist, I hope a healthy one can actually score. The series returns to the Madhouse on Saturday, with standing room only tickets start around $350 and an actual seat will get you around $530 at this point.

    Source: USA Today Sports

  • The Heat repeat: Say it ain’t so. I feel that I can say, we all saw this one coming. The Miami Heat took their second straight NBA title on Thursday night against the San Antonio Spurs. Sad moment for Bulls fans. Maybe this means that since Ray Allen got another championship, he and the rest of the bench posse will retire and get out of the way for the future Chicago Bulls. I, for one, am pretty excited it’s over with. Just think…the next Chicago Bulls game played is one with Derrick Rose. And I can’t wait.
  • Agent Jay-Z: Spokesman for Roc Nation Sports confirmed to ESPN.com this

    From Faniq.com

    week that Jay-Z is a licensed NBA and  MLB agent. Watch out sports world, Jay-Z is about to rock it. It’s rumored that Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will sign with Jay-Z. Since Jay-Z committed to Roc Nation Sports, they’ve signed big name athletes like Jets QB Geno Smith and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. This is only the start. I have a feeling that Jay-Z will eventually be stealing the best talent in the NBA and MLB to his firm. What this means? Maybe they’re appear in Justin Timberlake‘s new music videos?

COLD

  • Illini get a new QB: It’s not exactly ‘cold’ news, but it did happen earlier this week. It’s huge for University of Illinois fans. Former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt has decided to transfer to Illinois, his home state. I can barely hold in my excitement, but not many people see the significance. Lunt started his freshman year and played against SEC schools, that’s a lot of experience that will help him in the Big 10 Conference. Lunt has great quarterback mechanics, and gives Illinois an honest chance to win. From Nathan Scheelhaase to Wes Lunt is gonna be a huge change. Get excited Illini fans!
  • Serena speaks her mind: Tennis pro Serena Williams got into some hot water this week by opening up her big mouth. Williams commented about the highly publicized Ohio rape case involving two high school boys raping a drunken 16-year old girl, saying, “she shouldn’t have put herself in that position.” Whoops. Williams apologized to the family about her comment. Not cool Serena. Simply, not cool.
  • Johnny Football is more like Johnny Feisty: Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel certainly loves Twitter, but he said tweeted something this week that really shocked people. He deleted it from his twitter but here is what he tweeted.. You have to think that Manziel knew that people were going to talk, and maybe that he loves the attention (good or bad I guess). It was later revealed what this tweet was actually about…a parking ticket for his windows being tinted. Although, most people thought this tweet had something to do with Manziel getting cozy with a teammates girlfriend…
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