The good news? This miserable week for the Illini is finally over. The bad news? What was supposed to be an improved Illinois team isn't looking very good at all.
After suffering an embarrassing loss to Winthrop on Monday night in Champaign, the Illini lost its two games at the NIT Tip-off in Brooklyn by a combined 43 points, run out of Barclays Center on Thursday and Friday in lopsided losses to West Virginia and Florida State.
For just the second time since the early 1990s, the Illini have dropped three consecutive non-conference games. It last happened under Bruce Weber in 2009, with three straight losses to Georgia, Missouri and Gonzaga.
Illinois had no chance Thursday, with West Virginia executing its patented full-court press to perfection and forcing 24 Illini turnovers in a 32-point victory, Illinois falling 89-57.
Friday, the Illini hung right with the Seminoles, trailing by just three at halftime and holding a couple modest leads in the second half. But Florida State burst away from a two-point Illinois lead with a 24-7 run to build a huge 15-point advantage, cruising to an 11-point, 72-61 win. The Illini shot just 33 percent from the field in the game and were dominated in the paint, outscored 30-14 there as the Noles blocked seven shots.
After starting the season with four straight wins, the slightest uptick in competition against Winthrop spelled disaster, and back-to-back games against ranked teams ended in convincing losses. Things don't get much easier. Illinois, at 4-3, next faces North Carolina State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge before a neutral-court game against VCU in Miami.
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 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.