Big Ten

Big Ten hoops preview: Hawkeyes lose White but return experienced core

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Big Ten hoops preview: Hawkeyes lose White but return experienced core

This offseason, Iowa did a lot.

The Hawkeyes lost a lot. The Hawkeyes returned a lot. And the Hawkeyes added a lot.

It might sound strange, but Fran McCaffery is calling it one of the more unique teams he’s ever had. And as Iowa is slowly climbing the ladder of progression as a program, even a season after losing one of the best players in program history, there’s reason to be optimistic about this team.

“I think this is one of the most unique teams I've had in in all my years in coaching in the sense that we have four starters back, can almost count (Anthony) Clemmons as a fifth starter, and after that, everybody's young, with the exception of Dom Uhl. He's the only one who played. Everybody else is a guy who sat out last year, freshman or a transfer that didn't play last year,” McCaffery said earlier this month at Big Ten media day. “So It will be a real challenge to get those young guys ready because I think, you know, in this league, five guys isn't enough. You need at least 10. I think they'll be ready. It's an exciting time to try to get them ready. We've got talent. We've got character. Looking forward to it.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten hoops preview: Hill, Nunn need to keep stepping up for Illini]

So what did Iowa lose? Well, that can be summed up in two words: Aaron White.

White, one of the Big Ten’s best players a season ago, carried the Hawkeyes at times last year. He averaged 16.4 points per game (fifth in the conference) and 7.3 rebounds per game (fourth in the conference) and ranked in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and steals.

White graduated as the program’s all-time leader in games played with 140. He also finished second in program history in scoring (1,859 points) and third in rebounding (901 boards).

And while all that production will have to be replaced, certainly, it’s not the biggest issue in the wake of White’s departure. What is the biggest issue is finding a team leader, finding someone to provide the intangibles that White did last season.

As alluded to, White put the team on his back consistently throughout the season and especially down the stretch, when the Hawkeyes secured an NCAA tournament invitation and then won their first NCAA tournament game under McCaffery, the program’s first win in the Big Dance since 2001.

“On the floor, I think Aaron was one of the best players in college basketball last year. He’s a guy that’s just a leader on and off the court, and obviously you lose that,” senior point guard Mike Gesell said. “But we have a lot of guys stepping into that role. When you lose a guy like that, not a single person is going to pick that up, it’s going to be a group effort. We have a lot of seniors this year, a lot of returning starters, guys that watched him do it and really learned from him.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten hoops preview: Hoosiers look to reach top of conference]

This is where what the Hawkeyes returned comes in.

Filling White’s shoes from a leadership perspective will be a team effort, as Gesell said. Gesell is one of four returning Iowa starters, along with Jarrod Uthoff, Peter Jok and Adam Woodbury. Those four — along with Clemmons and Uhl, who both played sizable roles last season — form a core group of six guys who have plenty of Big Ten experience and plenty of ability to lead, play and win as a unit.

“I think when you have four seniors, all of whom have played as much as these four guys have, it's kind of a collective effort,” McCaffery said. “Last year was Aaron White's team, no question about that … This year, it's a little bit different. Mike's the point guard. Woody's a little more verbal. Jarrod has really, I think, taken his game to the next level, but he's not a big verbal guy. Clemmons is, and he's rock solid and has tremendous respect of everything in the locker room. So I think all of them will contribute in that area.”

“I think we’ve got a lot of experience returning,” Gesell said. “I think we’ll have even more experience than last year. Now we’re a team that’s been to the NCAA tournament two years in a row. We know what it take to get there, and we know what we’ve got to do on a daily basis to prepare ourselves for that.

“The difference between winning and losing in the Big Ten is very small, it could be one or two possessions a game. Having that experience playing in big environments, playing in hostile road environments, we know what it takes to win, and I think that will help us a lot this year. I think we’ve got a ton of potential with this team.”

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Hawkeyes gear right here]

But with all that returning experience, there’s a lot of new, too. Altogether there are 10 newcomers on this year’s roster: five true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and three juniors who transferred in from junior college ahead of last season and sat out.

Three of those true freshmen are Illinois products: Brandon Hutton (De La Salle), Isaiah Moss (Simeon) and Christian Williams (St. Teresa).

All the newness mixed with all the experience means getting integrated this preseason is a real challenge.

But it also could create a concoction that keeps the Hawkeyes on the path McCaffery has them traveling. He’s increasingly produced more successful teams in each of his five seasons. In Year 1, Iowa won just 11 games, but in Year 2, the win total increased to 18. Then came a 25-win season, followed by the first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Hawkeyes won their first tournament game under McCaffery. So the pattern is a good one, and if the pattern holds, even more success awaits this season.

“We’ve been getting ourselves ready, worked hard all summer, worked hard all fall. Now practice has started, and I think we’re very hungry,” Gesell said. “We’re not settling on our one win in the NCAA tournament last year, we’re looking to just continue to make strides for the program.”

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

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USA TODAY

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

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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.