Big Ten

Breaking down Northwestern's 2015-16 non-conference schedule

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Breaking down Northwestern's 2015-16 non-conference schedule

Northwestern released its non-conference schedule for the 2015-16 season on Wednesday, but there's really only one topic of concern that surrounds this program:

Will this be the year the Cats finally make an NCAA tournament appearance?

Last season, the second of the Chris Collins Era, featured another long losing streak during conference play, but thanks to some strong play toward the end of the season, the Cats finished eighth in the Big Ten, an improvement over 2014's 11th-place finish.

There were plenty of reasons for hope for the future last season, most coming from Collins' continually exciting recruiting success. Vic Law was the highest-rated Northwestern recruit on record, and another highly touted freshman, point guard Bryant McIntosh, had such a great season that he landed on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team alongside superstars like D'Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble.

McIntosh and Law will be back this season along with upperclassmen Tre Demps and Alex Olah, each coming off their own solid campaigns. And two incoming freshmen, the highly rated Jordan Ash and Aaron Falzon, have added to the rave reviews over Collins' recruiting.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini announce Dee Brown as special assistant to AD Mike Thomas]

So with that in mind, here's an opponent-by-opponent look at Northwestern's 2015-16 non-conference slate.

Nov. 13: vs. UMass-Lowell

The River Hawks have been playing Division-I hoops for just two seasons and won a total of 22 games in those two seasons.

Nov. 18: vs. Fairfield

The Stags haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1997 and have won just 14 games in the past two seasons combined. Northwestern and Fairfield have one previous meeting, an 18-point Fairfield win to open the 1976-77 season.

Nov. 20: vs. Columbia

After a solid 21-13 showing in 2013-14, the Lions stumbled last season, finishing at 13-15. Man had yet to reach the moon the last time Columbia made an NCAA tournament appearance. Northwestern is 1-1 in two previous matchups, the most recent in 1991.

[MORE BIG TEN: Is Buckeyes' D'Angelo Russell the best player in the NBA Draft?]

Nov. 23/24: CBE Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City, Mo.

The highlight of the Cats' non-conference portion of the schedule, they'll participate in one of college basketball's better offseason events. Played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Northwestern will play two of the three other schools in the event on consecutive nights. The Day 1 matchups are to-be-announced, but the three others participating are North Carolina, Kansas State and Missouri. It will provide two matchups against big programs from big-time conferences. The Tar Heels are perennial national-title contenders and could be this season's preseason No. 1 team. The other purple Wildcats are helmed by former Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. Mizzou, though a strong program in recent history, is coming off its worst season since the mid-1960s, a nine-win campaign under first-year head coach Kim Anderson.

Nov. 28: vs. New Orleans

No, it's not the Pelicans, and Olah won't have to worry about defending Anthony Davis. The Privateers have averaged fewer than 10 wins over the past five seasons and have yet to return to their Tim Floyd-led glory days of the mid-1990s. Northwestern has played New Orleans once before, a 65-54 win for the Cats in 1978.

Dec. 1: at Virginia Tech (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

It's been a pretty long NCAA tournament drought for the Hokies, who haven't been to the Big Dance since 2007. Buzz Williams is entering his second year as the head coach in Blacksburg, where this one will be played. Somewhat surprisingly, this will be the first meeting between these two programs. Interestingly, Northwestern welcomed in Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren this offseason. Eligible to play as a grad transfer, he'll be going up against his former team in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

[MORE BIG TEN: Five-star guard Josh Langford is Spartans' latest recruiting splash]

Dec. 5: vs. SIU-Edwardsville

The Cougars are just five seasons into their tenure as a major D-I college basketball program and have yet to finish over .500. But they did establish a new high last season with 12 wins. Northwestern has four wins in four tries all-time against SIUE.

Dec. 13: vs. Chicago State

Another group of Illinois-based Cougars, these guys are entering their third season as members of the WAC after winning just eight games a year ago. Chicago State has never made the NCAA tournament in 31 seasons as a major program. Northwestern and Chicago State have played nine times since 1981 (most recently in 2010), and the Cats have won all nine games.

Dec. 19: at DePaul

The Blue Demons have a new, old head coach as Dave Leitao is back at the helm of the program after five dismal seasons under Oliver Purnell. DePaul's last NCAA tournament trip came in 2004, during Leitao's first stint in Lincoln Park. This will be game No. 31 in a longtime series, a series DePaul has a big 20-10 lead in. The last meeting was a dramatic 57-56 win for the Demons in Evanston. This will be the Cats' first trip to the Allstate Arena since 2007.

[MORE BIG TEN: Check out Sam Dekker's NBA Draft job application]

Dec. 21: vs. Sacred Heart

The Pioneers have only been playing major college hoops since 1999 and haven't reached the NCAA tournament in that time. This will be Year 3 of the Anthony Latina Era, and after a five-win season to start things off, Sacred Heart bounced back with 15 wins last season. Northwestern's never seen Sacred Heart, but incoming freshman Aaron Falzon ought to be familiar. His brother, Tevin, plays for the Pioneers.

Dec. 27: vs. Loyola (Maryland)

It's not the Ramblers, but it'll have to do. The Greyhounds made the NCAA tournament in 2012 but have just 22 wins in the past two seasons combined. Northwestern has seen Loyola (Maryland) before, in 2006, a win for the Cats.

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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USA TODAY

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.