Big Ten

Here we go again: Another year, another late-season collapse for Hawkeyes


Here we go again: Another year, another late-season collapse for Hawkeyes

INDIANAPOLIS — Fran McCaffery has built a consistent winner in Iowa City. Unfortunately, he's also built a consistent late-season loser.

As far as the Iowa program has come in recent seasons, the Hawkeyes can't seem to shake their unsolvable habit of playing their worst basketball at the worst possible time.

It is a recent trend, sure, but a trend nonetheless. For the third straight season, Iowa was bounced from the Big Ten Tournament in its first game, losing to Illinois on Thursday in a shocking upset.

But the 68-66 score didn't really tell the story. The Hawkeyes trailed the Illini by as many as 11 on multiple occasions. A late-game double-digit deficit was erased thanks to an 11-0 run, but Iowa couldn't stop Malcolm Hill from burying a go-ahead jumper. And it couldn't even get a shot off on a final possession it had two chances at running.

Thursday's loss, though, was not exactly unpredictable. No, the No. 5 seed shouldn't be losing to the No. 12 seed in a conference tournament (that's for the Big Dance), especially a No. 12 seed that No. 5 seed beat by double digits just a month ago.

But this was the latest stumble in a long line of them over the past few weeks for Iowa, which lost five of its last seven regular-season games heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini advance again in Big Ten Tournament with upset of Hawkeyes]

It was a finish eerily similar to the one this same group of players, give or take a few key cogs, experienced in 2014, when the Hawkeyes lost five of their final six games of the regular season before bowing out of the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in the first game. And while last season didn't feature quite the same collapse, there was still a first-game exit from the conference tournament, a loss to Penn State at the United Center.

In the worst possible way, it's deja vu all over again for Iowa.

"I would say we didn't get off to good starts in any of those three games," McCaffery said in reference to his team's three straight quick oustings from the Big Ten Tournament, "and I don't think in a tournament situation that's a good thing."

McCaffery was outwardly frustrated during his postgame press conference Thursday, telling one reporter who asked which play was run in a certain situation that it was "none of your business what the play call was." And that continued, as he had short answers for what has gone wrong this season.

When asked what the problem has been over this losing stretch of the season:

"Well, I think that's pretty obvious. We're not making shots, turning the ball over."

Accurate, though that might be, not the most helpful explanation.

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

But he elaborated a bit when asked about the guys who make up this team now. Four of Iowa's five starters are seniors, the other a junior. They were all here two seasons ago when that end-of-season spiral featured a tourney loss to Northwestern in Indy. Is it "oh no, not again?" for those players?

"When you're a senior, I think you should realize that tournament play is different. It just is," McCaffery said. "And you’ve got to be ready. We out-rebound (Illinois). I thought our assist-to-turnover ratio in the first half was terrific, but we missed a ton of shots. Eighteen turnovers. You can't win a tournament game turning the ball over 18 times. Can't."

Each of the last two seasons has featured an early NCAA tournament exit for Iowa, too. Two years ago, the Hawkeyes were bounced from the "First Four" by Tennessee. Last season, they were ousted in the Round of 32 by Gonzaga.

This season, the expectations were higher than ever after Iowa reached the top five in the country. Those days seem long, long ago, and who knows how low the Hawkeyes will drop for the bracketologists and the selection committee after Thursday's loss.

Iowa has won just twice in its last eight games. It's guaranteed one more contest, but will the outcome be any different?

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.