NCAA Basketball

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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The week started out so promising.  The then-14th ranked Indiana Hoosiers descended on the Maui Jim Invitational after a 86-65 victory over Creighton, cheap and most of us who made the trip were eyeing a potential championship match-up with Kansas on the last day of the tournament.  Hoosier Nation came out to Hawaii in full force evidenced by the overwhelming amount of cream and crimson everywhere at the team hotel.  In fact, if you weren’t wearing cream and crimson, you stood out.

By the end of the week, however, after the Hoosiers had dropped two out of three games and finished with a 69-72 loss to UNLV, many fans on social media and reporters in the mainstream media were, well, disgruntled to say the least.  After all, the fans had paid thousands of dollars and traveled extraordinary miles to watch the Hoosiers play, and Hoosier Nation expected nothing less than victory (or least a close defeat) from their players and coaches.  So was the trip worth it?

As we consider that question, let’s remember where this tournament was played: Maui.  Yes, Maui.   So after the heart-breaking loss to Wake Forest on the first day of the tournament, although everyone was miserable, it could not be lost on you that you were in Hawaii.  What better place to be to nurse your team’s loss!  The beach, pool, spa, pool bar, or any one of several activities and excursions available on a moment’s notice were there to distract you and remind you how lucky you were to be on a tropical island while the rest of the Midwest dealt with the first real winter storm.  In fact, I would strongly recommend to the NCAA tournament committee that they consider having every Final Four in Hawaii for the fans’ sakes!

As for whether or not going to the basketball games were worth it, I will say this:  Not since college, have I had the opportunity to be able to sit so close to the court and observe the team.  The Lahina Civic Center is smaller than some high school gyms in Indiana.  You really had the opportunity to see the team up-close, hear the coaches barking out instructions, and watch the team from a view point that only a few get to see on a regular basis.  Even though it’s early in the season and line-ups and schemes will evolve, being able to see your team play three days in a row courtside is amazing for a college basketball fan.  In fact, I feel like I had a three day crash course in Indiana basketball that I wouldn’t have gotten from just watching the games at home (we need to fix our defense, and…ahem…turnovers!)

I had also forgotten how physically intense the game of basketball is – something that you just cannot appreciate on TV.  The speed at which the players move, and sometimes collide with each other – and the hardcourt – is extreme.  Anyone who says basketball is not a contact sport has not watched a game courtside.  And watching plays develop and defensive schemes turn on a dime as the players see it, is remarkably different from the bird’s eye view that we have on our couches.

So was the trip worth it?  For me, the answer is a resounding, Yes.  And that includes the basketball.  As I settle back into my routine, fighting off jet lag and getting ready for the holiday season, the one thing I know for sure – It’s going to be awfully hard to go back to my seats in the balcony after these last three games.

 

 

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Well, ampoule guys, online it was a rough and tumble opening weekend for two Big Ten teams. Illinois lost its season opener for the first time since 1998 and, even more shockingly, Bo Ryan’s nationally ranked Badgers squad dropped their season opener to Western Illinois.

But both B1G teams bounced back in their second games and are now 1-1. And a lot has already been said about these stumbles. So I decided to do something a little different for y’all this week.

In preparation for this season, I started following all of the B1G basketball teams on Twitter. I’ve been fascinated with sports teams’ Twitter feeds since I started following the Cubs at the beginning of this year. @Cubs has struck up a strong social media presence and doesn’t take itself too seriously, tweeting funny gifs and interacting with its 714k followers while also tweeting news and keeping fans informed. I tip my hat to whoever is running that account, and it inspired this project.

So, without further ado, here are my top five favorite B1G men’s basketball Twitter accounts.

1. Wisconsin: @BadgerMBB
Tweets: 22.4k
Followers: 145k
What’s good: They tweet a good mix of emoji, Vines and gifs along with in-game stats and fun tidbits from the team. The account handled the game one loss with aplomb and is still going strong, just like the Badger team itself. A solid follow.

2. Purdue: @BoilerBall
Tweets: 11.9k
Followers: 28.3k
What’s good: This account is all about the retweets and interacting with followers with just the right amount of snark. Their own written tweets are also entertaining and informative, and they stay active even when it’s not game day. Turns out others agree with me:

3. Indiana: @IndianaMBB
Tweets: 8,043
Followers: 70.7k
What’s good: A lot, but here’s two of my favorite tweets from them so far this season:

And, minutes later, this:

Killin’ it, Indiana.

4. Maryland: @TerrapinHoops
Tweets: 4,846
Followers: 29k
What’s good: Their tweet numbers are nowhere near those of Purdue or Wisconsin, but their game is getting there. I may be giving them extra points for retweeting a Parks and Rec gif, which is one of my personal favorite shows, but hey, that’s the kind of power I have when making my own rankings. This is also an instant classic tweet:

5. Nebraska: @HuskerHoops
Tweets: 15.2k
Followers: 47.1k
What’s good: Choosing this fifth spot was tricky. I ultimately chose Nebraska because they like to use the corn emoji for obvious reasons, and they tweet the koala emoji quite a bit in honor of their Australian player Jack McVeigh. The Huskers also got points on my made-up scale because of how active coach Tim Miles is on Twitter (you can and should follow him @CoachMiles).

The other nine teams are also worth a follow, as my top five is completely arbitrary. I put together a Twitter list to put all the teams in one place for you, check it out here.

Happy following! And happy basketball season!

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College basketball season! It’s finally here!

Well, nurse kind of. Officially, buy viagra Big Ten men’s basketball will start Nov. 13, with all 14 B1G teams tipping off for real at some point next weekend. BUT, the AP released its preseason top 25 poll earlier this week, and six Big Ten teams landed on the list. To no one’s surprise, Maryland was the highest ranked in the conference, coming in at No. 3 nationally. The other ranked teams are Michigan State (13), Indiana (15), Wisconsin (17) Purdue (23) and Michigan just squeaking in at 25.

And even though the season hasn’t officially started yet, most B1G teams have already notched their first win. For instance, the Wisconsin Badgers put up 101 points and didn’t even allow their opponents, the UW-River Falls Falcons, even half that amount in an exhibition game Wednesday.

Fellow ranked B1G teams Maryland, Indiana and Michigan State also notched wins in exhibition games so far this week against small-name teams. Purdue and Michigan will play their own meaningless games before Monday.

So what do these wins tell us? Not a whole lot, since they’re played against the likes of the Southern New Hampshire Penmen and the Northern Michigan Wildcats, both Division II teams. Indiana took on arguably the most fearsome opponent among the ranked B1G teams — Ottawa University, a team that was ranked No. 1 for part of its season last year in Canada, according to the Indy Star.

Regardless of the opponent, exhibition games do give the public a first look at how any new freshmen/transfers handle themselves against people who aren’t their teammates. The Detroit Free Press seemed impressed with Coach Tom Izzo’s new recruits, and four of Wisconsin’s freshmen combined for 44 points and 27 rebounds, for instance.

The Illini play their first and only exhibition game Sunday against the big bad Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars. And, even though it’s meaningless, I’m still looking forward to it.

 

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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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Coach John Groce, viagra from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Well guys and gals, what can I say. We’re still in the preseason and, basketball-wise, things in the Big Ten conference have been pretty quiet. Everyone in the city seems to be focused on hockey or baseball — myself included. As I type these very words I’m watching the Cubs fall further and further behind to the Mets in game 4.

I was parked in front of the TV last night too watching the Cubs when I noticed that Joe Maddon looked so cozy — albeit slightly depressed — in the dugout in his sweatshirt, baseball pants and cap during game 3. Then I started thinking…most managers/coaches in other sports wear comfortable get-ups on the sidelines, except in college basketball.

Most men’s basketball coaches in the Big Ten are usually wearing full-on suits and ties while sitting on the bench, and I think it’s time that we ask ourselves why. College football coaches are able to wear khakis and sweatshirts on the gridiron, so why should the basketball court be any different?

That’s not to say I’m totally against coaches looking classy or pulling out special pieces for big games or special occasions. For instance, I’m a fan of the orange blazer that Illini coach John Groce (and his predecessor Bruce Weber) pulls out or big games, a la former coach Lou Henson. It’s like getting dressed up for a big business meeting at work. But I see no reason for a coach to be sporting a suit and tie in a run-of-the-mill preconference game.

However, I do think some coaches may get a little too comfortable. Bob Huggins at West Virginia University wears a tracksuit to every game, from what I understand: GQ even did a short piece on his infamous look. Indiana coach Tom Crean has been known to rock a tracksuit from time to time.

And I will say, I’m not a fan of the uber-casual look. It looks like they could have rolled out of bed that morning and just headed to work.

If it were up to me, I’d institute a business casual dress code for the B1G basketball coaches. Think sweaters or button-downs with khakis or slacks. They can still show school spirit and showcase their teams’ colors without feeling stuffy or taking it too far and basically showing up to work in pajamas.

Because, when it comes down to it, these guys coach college basketball. They’re not running a shareholder meeting for a Fortune 500 company, nor are they eating Cheerios on the couch. Their attire should reflect that.

Cheers to being a few short weeks away from the end of the preseason!

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