Illinois Fighting Illini Archive

2014-2015 ITH season preview: Illinois Fighting Illini


With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Illinois Fighting Illini.

As John Groce enters year three in Champaign, an intriguing mix of talent allows for some cautious optimism about a return trip to the Big Dance.

After losing seniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson off his first-year squad that advanced to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament, the Illini suffered through an eight-game losing streak during conference play last season. But it rebounded to finish out the season a respectable 6-6 — a record that included an opening round victory against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament and one against Boston University in the NIT.

And while the team took a hit earlier this month when senior point guard Tracey Abrams suffered a season-ending injury (torn right ACL), there are a pair of transfers available to pick up the slack.

With Abrams out at point, Oregon transfer Ahmad Starks — who averaged 10.4 points per game in 2012-2013 — could step up and take the starter’s role. Aaron Cosby, a transfer from Seton Hall, will also be eligible to play this season and has the ability to give minutes at the point guard position as well.

The duo will be joined in the backcourt by Simeon product Kendrick Nunn. Nunn emerged towards the end of his freshman campaign, as Groce gave him more minutes during the team’s final 12 games. Nunn finished the year as the team’s second-most efficient scorer (54.1 eFG) and scored in double-digits seven of the team’s last 12 games after failing to do so once before the final stretch.

Wing Rayvonte Rice, who sat out Groce’s first year as a Drake transfer, was the team’s top scorer as a redshirt junior a season ago (15.9 points) and also led the team in minutes played (32.7). Rice could stand some shooting and efficiency improvement (48.0 eFG percentage /29.5 percent from 3-point range), but figures to be the team’s top returning offensive threat along with Nunn.


Film Session: The Illini’s run


In Thursday’s opening round loss to the Illini in the Big Ten Tournament, a strong start to the second half saw the Hoosiers up five at 38-33 with 12:33 to go. But some turnovers and missed shots during a 14-2 Illinois run over about the next four minutes of game time sunk their chances for victory.

We’ll take a look at what Indiana was allowing the Illini to do offensively during their run in the final edition of the Film Session for the 2013-2014 season:

With Indiana still up five, Nnanna Egwu is able to track down a rebound in the corner off a Kendrick Nunn miss. He throws it back up top to Rayvonte Rice:


Rice swings to Tracy Abrams. Egwu comes up to set a ball screen for him:



Five takeaways from Indiana’s loss to Illinois


INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s existence in the 2014 Big Ten tournament was brief as the Hoosiers fell 64-54 to Illinois on Thursday afternoon in the event’s opening game.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from Indiana’s 15th loss:

· The same problems that plagued IU in December plagued them Thursday: At the onset of the second half, it looked as if Indiana was gaining control and would put their early second half woes that have been a problem all season to rest for the day. But once the Hoosiers went up 38-33, Illinois quickly responded with an 11-0 run to take the lead for good.

So what changed after IU gained its largest lead? Here’s a summary of Indiana’s possessions from the 13:53 mark of the second half to the 9:39 mark, a span of four minutes and 14 seconds:

– Possession one: Yogi Ferrell missed jump shot, Devin Davis offensive rebound, missed putback, Davis offensive rebound. Illinois foul. Ferrell missed layup. Three shot attempts, zero points.
– Possession two: Stanford Robinson turnover.
– Possession three: Ferrell missed jump shot.
– Possession four: Noah Vonleh missed 3-pointer.
– Possession five: Will Sheehey turnover.
– Possession six: Robinson missed 3-pointer, Jeremy Hollowell offensive rebound, Ferrell missed 3-pointer.

A little bit of everything in this stretch, but most glaringly of course are turnovers and poor shooting. Two missed 2-point jump shots, three missed 3-pointers, two missed layups and two turnovers. By the time Indiana called timeout after the sixth possession, the Hoosiers were staring at a six-point deficit and never recovered.


Photo Gallery: Indiana vs. Illinois


INDIANAPOLIS — Check out 24 photos by Jamie Owens from Indiana’s 64-54 loss to Illinois in the 2014 Big Ten tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the embedded photo gallery after the jump. Purchase prints from J. Scott Sports.


The Minute After: Illinois


INDIANAPOLIS — Thoughts on a 64-54 loss to the Illini:

Less than four minutes into Indiana’s opening round meeting with Illinois on Thursday afternoon in the Big Ten tournament, it appeared as though the Hoosiers would offer up little resistance to a Fighting Illini club that had come in with wins in four of its last five games.

Just before Illinois took a 9-0 lead with 16:23 to play in the first half, Tom Crean turned to his bench and uttered one sentence that said it all: “There’s no attack to the game right now.”

Crean was right.

Illinois was the aggressor out of the gate and how Indiana would respond over the next 16 minutes would tell us plenty about how the afternoon would transpire.

The Hoosiers answered out of the timeout with an 8-0 run, thanks to five points from Will Sheehey, who finished the opening 20 minutes with 11 points. Yogi Ferrell, ever the reliable contributor all season for these Hoosiers, would step up as well, pouring in 10 points before intermission.

When halftime hit, the Hoosiers would enter the locker room trailing by just two at 30-28, thanks in large part to a 6-of-10 performance from behind the 3-point arc and despite a turnover percentage of 30.4.


With season entering final stretch, Hoosiers prepare for Illinois


Will Sheehey knows his days as an Indiana Hoosier are numbered.

The senior forward has already experienced his senior night and perhaps his final game at Assembly Hall. But he doesn’t want the ride to end, just yet. “I’d love to win every game out,” he said on Wednesday.

That urgency, he hopes, will translate into Indiana’s Big Ten tournament opener on Thursday, in which the 8th-seeded Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11) will play the 9th-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini (18-13, 7-11) at 12 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Obviously (I’m) making sure that they take each game seriously and each practice seriously,” Sheehey said, “knowing that potentially it could be coming down to one of the final ones.”

As the Hoosiers enter postseason play, Sheehey said the only difference it holds compared to the regular season will be the frequency at which the games come. His teammates, he said, will have to take care of themselves health-wise throughout the whole process. That is, if they get that far.

With top-seeded Michigan looming, Indiana’s focus is on Illinois. The two teams matched up twice in Big Ten play — once in late December and once in late January — with each team winning on its home court. And the Hoosiers have looked at those tapes — the second game occurred while the Illini were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak — as  well as more recent games, in which the Illini have won four of their past five.


What to Expect: Illinois


Indiana travels 50 miles north to Indianapolis on Thursday for the 2014 Big Ten tournament, where the 8th seeded Hoosiers will open opposite 9th seeded Illinois. The winner will advance to meet top seeded Michigan at 12 p.m. ET on Friday. The Fighting Illini are 18-13 overall and have won four of their last five games.

The game will be broadcast at 12 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network and on the IU radio network:

Ready or not, postseason play is here. And after an entertaining regular season in the Big Ten, the conference figures to take center stage of the college hoops world this weekend in Indianapolis. For the fourth straight season, the Big Ten is the top league in the country according to the KenPom rankings and while it may not have a national champion since 2000, the quality of the league from top to bottom is unmatched.

Indiana, of course, has fallen back into the bottom half of the league after winning it outright last season for the first time in 20 years. Most of the preseason prognostications slotted the Hoosiers as the fifth or sixth best team in the conference, but IU never managed to build the consistency needed to reach its full potential and finds itself in need of four wins to reach the NCAA tournament.

That all goes out the window tomorrow for teams like IU, Illinois, Purdue, Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota, at least temporarily, as all 12 teams come together at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line. If the Hoosiers can make a run to Sunday and win it for the first time ever, it would be a surprising turn of events on an otherwise disappointing season. If not, the NIT awaits.


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