Big Ten

Is a deep NCAA tournament run on the horizon for Purdue?


Is a deep NCAA tournament run on the horizon for Purdue?

INDIANAPOLIS — Performances don’t get much more all-around terrific than the whooping Purdue put on Illinois on Friday.

The Boilermakers advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament with the 31-point win. But the way they played couldn’t help but make anyone watching wonder about the scenarios of advancement come the next tournament.

Purdue hasn’t been among the teams pegged as NCAA tournament favorites, and certainly that’s not without reason. The Boilers have been kind of a Jekyll-and-Hyde team throughout the year despite a strong record, a top-15 ranking and the No. 4 seed in this week’s conference tourney. Wins over top-10 teams like Michigan State and Maryland and a 91-point performance against Wisconsin were balanced out by blowing a huge lead in a home loss to Iowa and falling in four separate road conference games to Iowa, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.

Surely, though, all along the Boilers have had what it takes, it was just a matter of everything clicking on the same day. Friday, that’s what happened. Purdue’s massive “skyline” of a front court combined for 37 points, the Boilers connected on 13 3-pointers and the Purdue defense absolutely smothered an Illinois team that couldn’t get anything going.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini crushed by Purdue in blowout end to Big Ten tourney run]

It was a perfect display. And while that coming against a sub-.500 team doesn’t mean as much as it would if it comes Saturday against Michigan or Sunday in a Big Ten Tournament title game, it showed exactly how far this team could go once the Big Dance gets started.

“If they’re making 3s like that and they’re interior players play like that?” Illinois head coach John Groce posited after the game. “Obviously they’ve got multiple options. So sometimes in a one-game setting, if a guy gets in foul trouble, especially an interior player, most teams don’t have another guy like that. They do. And then they’ve got multiple shooters, it’s not just one guy.

“Obviously if they play the way they did today, they could beat about anybody.”

That “skyline” brings the most confidence, with A.J. Hammons an All-Big Ten First Team selection the best player on the court in almost any game he plays. Caleb Swanigan has been great lately, averaging 12.9 points over his last seven games and recording his first double-double since January in Friday’s win. Isaac Haas, well, that guy’s huge.

But it’s the shooters around them that perhaps make the biggest difference in Purdue’s ability to advance to the alliterative rounds of the NCAA tournament. If Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards and Ryan Cline and others are hitting 3s, the Boilers are practically unstoppable. Friday, they knocked down 13 of the 27 long balls they attempted, with those three guards making a combined eight of them.

“We got good looks. Made good decisions,” Rapheal Davis said. “(The big men) were being doubled, and they just passed it out. It makes a lot of sense when two people guard you, somebody has to be open. And guys were open, and guys make shots when they're open. And making shots like that allows you to get in the rhythm to make contested ones or lay ones in the shot clock. But our big play was today, and we just started sharing the ball and getting everybody a piece of it.”

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

That deadly combination — not to mention the defense, as Hammons and Davis were named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team for the second straight season — could make Purdue as good as any team in the country, a statement that can’t sound crazy in this insane year for college hoops.

Friday we saw that combination in full effect, we saw the Boilers firing on all cylinders. There are potentially two more games this weekend to get Purdue warmed up for a March marathon. The Boilers already have a four-game winning streak. If Matt Painter’s crew can stay Jekyll and keep Hyde at bay, then it could be a very special season.

“I think we're playing well,” Mathias said. “We're playing harder. It's a big thing they stress to us every day in practice. Our offense is pulling a lot better. I think our guys were being more aggressive than they were maybe in the middle of the season at the beginning of Big Ten play. I was just making plays off the bounce individually and getting the other guys involved. I think when they get that flow going. Our defense feeds off that too, and we're tough to guard.”

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.