Tag Archives: Big Ten Conference

The Struggles Of The Illini

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The Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team program currently find themselves in a rough patch. The Illini haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013. And after this season’s 19-14 campaign, head basketball coach John Groce was fired. In five years in Champaign, Groce compiled a record of 95-74, while he was only 37-53 in the Big Ten Conference. Illinois had one NCAA Tournament appearance under Groce and they never finished higher than seventh in the Big Ten. Overall it’s been a struggle for the Fighting Illini as since they made the NCAA Title Game in 2005, they’ve been unable to at least make the Sweet 16. And for the next head basketball coach in Champaign, his main focus must be recruiting.

Of the Illinois team this season, 11 players were from the State of Illinois. However the Illini have struggled to keep the top talent home in recent years.

The past few years have seen Illinois lose out on Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor who each committed to playing for the Duke Blue Devils of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Parker and Okafor were both from Chicago, but they chose Duke since playing for Mike Krzyzewski would give them the better chance of reaching their ultimate goal which was to play in the NBA. But you have to go back to 2010 to find the last McDonald’s All-American who committed to play basketball for the Illini in forward Jereme Richmond. However after just one year with the Fighting Illini, Richmond declared for the NBA Draft. And after Richmond went undrafted, legal troubles derailed his once promising basketball career. The last six Mr. Basketball Award winners from the State of Illinois have elected to play for schools in other conferences, while since 2000, the Illini have only had three players win this award and play for them as being in Champaign isn’t one of their top priorities.

Whether or not the Illinois likes it, they must accept the fact that they are an afterthought in the Big Ten as you have to go back to 2011 to find the last time that they were able to finish better than seventh in the conference standings. The Illini are second-class citizens to the Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan State Spartans, Maryland Terrapins, and Michigan Wolverines who have nationally recognized programs that are always pushing for the top spot in the Big Ten. And the cherry on the top is that the Fighting Illini’s in-state rival in the Northwestern Wildcats are set to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament this week.

The State Farm Center which is the Illini’s home court recently underwent renovation as a way to spark recruiting. However the Illini have still been unable to keep up with the top teams that the Big Ten has to offer.

For Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman, his next head coach must be someone that is going to be able to ward off the Michigan State’s, Duke’s, and Kentucky Wildcats of the college basketball world in order to get the top high school basketball players from the Windy City to make the short trek to Champaign as opposed to catching a flight to another part of the country.

Some names that could be thrown around in the head coaching search for Illinois are Dayton Flyers head basketball coach Archie Miller, Illinois State Redbirds head basketball coach Dan Muller, Butler Bulldogs head basketball coach Chris Holtmann, and Wichita State Shockers head basketball coach Gregg Marshall.

Miller has compiled a record of 140-62 in six years at Dayton, and he has the Flyers making their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. In recent years schools from Power Conferences have attempted to lure Miller away from Dayton to no avail, and I am not sure if Illinois would be any different should they want him.

Muller seems more likely for Illinois to get rather than Miller after he had the Redbirds on the cusp of making their first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Illinois State pushed Wichita State for the top spot in the Missouri Valley Conference and they were the only team to defeat the Shockers within the conference. However a weak strength of schedule hurt Illinois State’s effort to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And after losing to the Shockers in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Final, Muller could be ready to take over a bigger program where he would not have that problem.

There’s no pressure for Holtmann at Butler as he has a team that can make the Sweet 16. But the fact that Butler was able to defeat the Villanova Wildcats twice this season has raised his profile in college basketball circles which could also make him attractive to Illinois.

And it would be a long shot for Marshall to leave Wichita State as he is 260-89 in ten years there, along with having a Final Four appearance on his resume. Like all of the other head coaches mentioned, there isn’t any pressure on Marshall at his current job, and he would be giving up security in order to get into the pressure cooker of the Big Ten.

Jamall Walker

You also cannot rule out Jamall Walker who is currently serving as the interim head basketball coach at Illinois while they participate in the National Invitation Tournament. And a run to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals in the tournament could get Walker some support to get the full-time job in Champaign.

It is going to be very interesting to see what direction that Illinois will go in with their next hire. But for Whitman he has a chance to find someone that will allow his program to compete in the Big Ten, while also appeasing the alumni in Champaign.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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Take Me Home

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The Big Ten Conference was the last power conference to get on the conference tournament bandwagon in men’s basketball. The inaugural Big Ten Tournament took place in 1998 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois and it was won by the Michigan Wolverines. From 1998-2016, the Big Ten Tournament alternated between Chicago and Indianapolis which gave it that classic Midwestern vibe. But recently the Big Ten decided to extend its brand by adding three schools in the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Maryland Terrapins, and Rutgers Scarlet Knights to become a 14-school conference as they’ve expanded to the Eastern Region of the United States with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. To accommodate this, Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany decided to have this year’s conference tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., while next year it will be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And although that there is money in both of these cities for the Big Ten, it might be time from them to rethink this.

Aside from Michigan’s improbable run to the Big Ten Tournament Title, this year’s edition of the tourney lacked a spark due to the fact that the fan bases for the majority of these schools were not out in full force as there were some empty seats at the Verizon Center. Although that Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis would theoretically pose an advantage for the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers, it’s always common to see the folks who support the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Spartans make the trek to Indy. The same can be said for the United Center which would pose an advantage for the Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats, but the people who support Michigan and the Iowa Hawkeyes will always be out in full force in the Windy City. And with Rutgers and the Penn State Nittany Lions losing in the second round of this year’s edition of the Big Ten Tournament, while local favorite Maryland was knocked out in the quarterfinals, the bubble for Delany had burst.

These mega conferences have thrown out the tried and true normalcy of conferences being a regional thing as it more about capitalizing on big media markets in order to secure larger television deals. And I understand that conference commissioners are attempting to make it as fair as possible for all of their members, but at some point you are simply stretching yourself too far.

Maryland and Rutgers knew what they were getting into when school administrators at these respective institutions prostituted themselves to get more money for their universities, and more importantly themselves. Rutgers has always been that school in Northern New Jersey that could never cut it in the Big East Conference as they always struggled to keep local high school talent to remain in the Garden State. Maryland was always the little brother of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they knew how to hang in there and compete.

Maryland has had success on the hardwood in the Big Ten as they’ve made the NCAA Tournament in each year that they have been affiliated with the conference. But why should the Big Ten have to accommodate Maryland for the conference tournament when they are going out of their way to make the majority of their road trips during the season as a few night during the month of March in Chicago or Indianapolis won’t hurt them, while the same can be said about Rutgers.

When you think of the Big Ten, the Midwest region comes to mind. And although that the Big Ten was late to the conference tournament party, they’ve gone on to produce one of the best which is due to the energy that is involved.

Hopefully after next year’s trip to the Big Apple for the Big Ten Tournament, Delany and the school presidents within the conference will sit back and decide to go back to their Midwestern routes as opposed to chasing the almighty dollar. However recent years have shown what college athletics are all about the money more than ever. And since that is the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see the Big Ten have its conference tournament in Los Angeles.

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Tom Crean’s Hot Seat

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There are basketball fans and then there are those folks who follow the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers basketball program is one of the most storied men’s college basketball programs which includes them making eight Final Four appearances and winning five national championships. But with the Hoosiers last Final Four appearance coming in 2002, the anxiety around this program has grown.

Tom Crean

When Tom Crean was hired to be Indiana’s men’s basketball coach in 2008, he walked into a very tough situation. The Hoosiers were on probation due to recruiting violations under former head coach Kelvin Sampson and thus in Crean’s first season in Bloomington, Indiana was only able to win six games. Each of Crean’s first three seasons with the Hoosiers saw Indiana finish with a losing record before they were finally able to break through and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in both 2012 and 2013. But after the early departure of forward Cody Zeller and guard Victor Oladipo to the NBA, Indiana would regress and fail to make the tournament in 2014.

Impatient fans in Indiana wanted the school to move on from Crean, but he would respond by getting the Hoosiers back to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons with another trip to the Sweet 16 last March. And after the Hoosiers strong showing last season, they were expected to be a contender this season which saw them begin ranked 11th in the Associated Press Poll.

But after the current college basketball season began on a high note for Indiana as they knocked off the Kansas Jayhawks, things went south in a hurry. On November 22, the Hoosiers suffered a shocking 71-68 road upset at the hands of the Fort Wayne Mastodons of the Summit League. Indiana was able to rebound to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels on November 30; however Big Ten Conference play has not been kind to them.

Indiana dropped their first two games in the Big Ten and they have been swimming upstream ever since. After knocking off the Penn State Nittany Lions on February 1, the Hoosiers were at 5-5 in the Big Ten, but they have not won a game since as there is no chance of them winning the conference title for a second consecutive year.

At 5-10, Indiana is currently in 13th place in the Big Ten while their overall record is 15-13. And unless the Hoosiers are able to win their final three regular season games, along with running the table in the Big Ten Tournament next month, an invite to the NCAA Tournament won’t be in the cards.

Make no mistake about it that the talent is there for this Indiana team which includes junior guard James Blackmon Jr., who is leading the team in points per game with 17, and sophomore center Thomas Bryant who is tallying 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. But what has done Indiana in this season is their inability to win the close games. This season the Hoosiers are 1-7 in games that have decided by five points or less as they’ve lacked that Yogi Ferrell type player who can put this team on his back in order to make things better. And the inability for the Hoosiers to succeed in those close games falls into the lap of Crean.

It also isn’t helping Crean’s case that this is somewhat of a down year for the Big Ten with the perennial powerhouse in the Michigan State Spartans not being the typically dominant team which we’re accustomed to seeing. The Big Ten more than likely won’t see a team receive a top seed in the NCAA Tournament next month and Indiana has been unable to take advantage of a slightly down year for the conference as only the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are looking up to the Hoosiers in the standings.

If Indiana is able to rebound and show some life over the next few games, I do believe that Crean will be able to save his job. But if the Hoosiers are unable to get out of their funk, I would not be surprised to see Crean get his walking papers. However Crean has shown the ability to rebound before, but it’s just that the Indiana backers want to see this team continuously be a contender in the mode of some of their rivals such as Michigan State and the Kentucky Wildcats. The Hoosiers basketball resources are second to none in the Big Ten which means that the boosters want to see results.

Crean’s team has not given up on him as they’ve given maximum effort in recent heartbreaking losses to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes. But effort alone without victories isn’t good enough for a program the caliber of Indiana.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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What To Watch For In The 2016-2017 College Football Playoff

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Let the games begin.

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A Very Tough Task

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The College Football Playoff Committee had a very difficult job on their hands, but the right four teams are in the playoff.

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2016 Key Games For Week 14 In College Football

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All that stands in the way of the Alabama Crimson Tide getting back to the College Football Playoff is claiming the Southeastern Conference Title.

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2016 Key Games For Week 13 In College Football

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Put the women and children to bed when the Ohio Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines clash.

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Finding An Identity

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From 2011-2013, head football coach James Franklin did the impossible as he turned the Vanderbilt Commodores into a contender in the Southeastern Conference. Under Franklin, the Commodores went 24-15 and made a bowl game in each year on his watch which was a far cry from a program that only had four bowl appearances in 107 years prior to his arrival. What Franklin did at Vandy wouldn’t go unnoticed and in 2014, he was asked to become the head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

At Penn State, Franklin was taking over a program that is one of the most storied in college football history, but they were teetering on the brink after NCAA sanctions in wake of the Jerry Sandusky which included a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, and a loss of scholarships which came down in 2012 threatened to make the Nittany Lions an afterthought.

As expected it wasn’t easy for Franklin in his first two years in Happy Valley as Penn State was still recovering from NCAA sanctions. In each of Franklin’s first two years at Penn State, the Nittany Lions went 7-6, but the NCAA did lift the school’s bowl ban which made them eligible for the postseason. And as the 2016 college football season began, Penn State once again had their full compliment of scholarships which is allowing them to reemerge as being a force in the Big Ten Conference.

The month of September wasn’t kind to Penn State as they lost a pair of tough road games. On September 10, Penn State lost a heartbreak to one of their in-state rivals in the Pittsburgh Panthers before they were taken behind the woodshed by the Michigan Wolverines 49-10 on September 24. But who knew that a 29-26 overtime victory on October 1 over the Minnesota Golden Gophers would spark the Nittany Lions to their current run.

Since the beat down by Michigan, Penn State has won five consecutive games to run their mark to 7-2. The highlight of this came on October 22 when the Nittany Lions scored a 24-21 upset victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in what was Franklin’s biggest victory to date at Penn State. Penn State finds themselves tied with Ohio State for second place in the Big Ten East, and with a very winnable schedule remaining, their first 10-win season since 2009, along with still having a legitimate chance to make their first conference title game appearance are realities. But for anyone who has followed Franklin’s brief career as a head coach should not be surprised with what is going down at Penn State.

During Franklin’s time at Vanderbilt, the Commodores defeated the Tennessee Volunteers twice, while in 2013, he engineered a 34-17 victory over the Florida Gators which saw them end a 22-game losing streak to their rivals from the Southeastern Conference. Franklin was on the fast track to making Vanderbilt a household name, but when Penn State came calling, it was hard for the native of Langhorne, Pennsylvania to say no.

Now Franklin has the opportunity to flex his muscles in the Big Ten, and he is beginning to get the top high school football players from the Keystone State to remain home.

Franklin’s first big signing at Penn State was running back Saquon Barkley. Originally from the Bronx, New York, Barkely attended Whitehall High School in Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania. As a high school senior in 2014, Barkley was Pennsylvania’s Mr. Football and after flirting with playing football for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, he decided on Penn State.

In 2015, Barkley was the Big Ten Conference’s Freshman of the Year as he rushed for 1,055 yards, while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. This year Barkley has already eclipsed those numbers as he has gained 1,076 yards while he is in the running to be the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year as he is restoring Penn State’s reputation for being “running back U”.

The last two years saw Franklin not adjust his system to former quarterback Christian Hackenburg who is now in the National Football League with the New York Jets, but he has found his guy in sophomore Trace McSorley. McSorley is a dual-threat quarterback that is ideal for Franklin’s system and the numbers prove that. This year McSorley has thrown 14 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, while he has not turned the football over since the loss to Michigan.

According to ESPN.com, Penn State currently has 21st ranked recruiting class for next year as they are showing that they are more than ready to rub elbows with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East. There were some that wanted to put Franklin on the hot seat in Happy Valley, but the powers to be there hired the right man who in Pennsylvania at heart. And as the wins continue to pile up for Franklin, he’ll continue write his own legacy while helping Penn State move further away from their darkest hour.

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