Big Ten

With big men hurt, Illini are one of Big Ten's worst rebounding teams


With big men hurt, Illini are one of Big Ten's worst rebounding teams

CHAMPAIGN — Getting beat up in the rebounding battle is nothing new for Illinois this season.

But it seemed to make the biggest difference in Sunday's 77-65 loss to Iowa, the Big Ten's first-place team.

The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Illini, 43-32, with Illinois grabbing just six more rebounds than the Iowa duo of Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, who combined for 26 boards.

And the Hawkeyes turned those rebounds into points in a big way, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds that turned into 26 second-chance points, a sensational display from a team firing on all cylinders and now standing at 10-1 in the conference.

But, as mentioned, perhaps the rebounding discrepancy shouldn't come as a surprise. Iowa is one of the Big Ten's better offensive-rebounding teams, and Illinois ranks in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive rebounding. The Illini are the Big Ten's worst when it comes to rebounding margin, out-rebound by an average of almost six boards each night.

And, like the explanation for many of the Illini's woes this season, it can be chalked up to injuries. While the point guard position is a glaring weakness for this Illinois squad while Tracy Abrams sits out for a second straight season, it's the loss of their two projected starting big men that might be hurting even more. Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black have spent almost the entire season in street clothes, and the post has been a massive issue on both ends of the floor.

That's not shocking, either, considering how impressive Black was rebounding the ball a season ago and that Thorne averaged more than eight rebounds a game in early season action before he went down with his injury.

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But with those two still out indefinitely, what can the Illini do to better their efforts in grabbing missed shots?

"(We've) just got to control what we can control, block out," Groce said. "Does that guarantee you you're going to get it? No, but it's a good starting point.

"We need contributions from everybody there. We've got to gang rebound. I've been fortunate to coach guys in my career that are just naturally gifted rebounders. Leron Black is one of them. ... Mike Thorne's one of them. But unfortunately those guys aren't out there right now. It is what it is, we've got to figure that out. We've got to control what we can control. So when I watch the film, I'm going to watch and see how well we blocked out. Are we going to be a team right now that leads the nation in defensive rebounding? That's probably not this team's deal right now, but we've got to find a way to be competitive in that area."

The post players the Illini do have at their disposal have shown signs of improvement. A lot has been asked of Maverick Morgan, who grabbed seven rebounds Sunday, and Groce talked about his progression as being a kind of silver lining to the absence of Thorne and Black.

"I thought tonight Woodbury beat him to some balls, but all in all, did he contribute? You look at the stat sheet, he certainly did," Groce said. "Good knowledge of our defense, he's in the right position a lot, and he has gotten better. He has, he's improved a lot.

"With Thorne and Black being out, that's provided Mav and (Michael) Finke some opportunities, probably more opportunities than would've been there otherwise. And maybe that might be a slight silver lining in the cloud in terms of there development. Do I think it's helped Maverick that he's gotten to play more? Yes."

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]

But while other guys are attempting to step up while the two projected starters remain sidelined, the results just haven't been there. Illinois has been out-rebounded in every conference game and by double digits in all but three. Big Ten size is having its way, generally, with Illinois' big men, and Sunday was no exception, with Woodbury having a terrific game. Not only did Iowa's seven-footer grab 14 rebounds, but he scored 10 points. Uthoff, not a seven-footer but a very talented player with a mighty long wingspan, went for 18 and 12 as the Hawkeyes obliterated the Illini in the post, scoring 32 points in the paint.

And Iowa's phenomenal 26-point second-chance effort didn't sit well with Groce.

"Obviously what bothers me most there is their 26, not our six. Based on the current team we have and our current personnel, I'm more concerned with the gap in the number," Groce said. "I realize there might be a little bit of a gap, but it's too large. We've got to block out better, we've got to engage better. I didn't think we had it there today at a max level."

Now, Iowa is the league's best team, and Illinois shouldn't be judged on its inability to stop one of the top five teams in the country. But certainly the rebounding woes have dogged the Illini throughout Big Ten play. They were out-rebounded by 18 against Nebraska, by 17 against Ohio State. Those are far more distressing performances, and as long as Thorne and Black remain on the bench, that's a trend that seems unlikely to cease.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.