Big Ten

Illini's tournament bubble likely bursts with loss at Rutgers in regular-season finale

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USA TODAY

Illini's tournament bubble likely bursts with loss at Rutgers in regular-season finale

Illinois' late-season surge put it on the NCAA tournament bubble. But that bubble burst in the regular-season finale Saturday in New Jersey.

The Illini led by as many as 10 in the second half, but a back-and-forth finish went the way of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Deshawn Freeman hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to dash the Illini's NCAA tournament dreams in a 62-59 decision.

Illinois had won four consecutive games and five of six entering Saturday's showdown with the Big Ten's worst team. That stretch of games quickly vaulted the Illini into a position to bring an unexpected end to a three-year NCAA tournament drought. But after Saturday's loss, a miraculous run in next week's Big Ten Tournament is most likely the only thing that can get John Groce's team into the field of 68.

The Illini trailed by three at the half after an offensively challenged first 20 minutes for both teams, but they opened the second half on a 17-4 run and built a 10-point lead. The Knights bounced back, though, with a 13-3 run to tie the game, albeit briefly, before Te'Jon Lucas banked in a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding. But an Illinois lead was again erased when Rutgers scored six straight to take a one-point lead at 55-54, only for Malcolm Hill to counter with a huge 3 to put the Illini back in front. That, though, would be the last shot the Illini made.

The two teams traded pairs of free throws, keeping Illinois ahead by a bucket with a minute left. Corey Sanders ran right to the rim out of a timeout to tie the game at 59 with a layup. Tracy Abrams attempted his own driving layup and missed at the other end, but he nearly salvaged that miss with a huge play that momentarily gave the ball back to Illinois, trying to strip the ball away from the rebounder and causing him to fall out of bounds. But a video replay overturned that call, giving the ball to Rutgers with 35 seconds left. The Knights drained 25 seconds off the clock before Freeman buried his clutch triple, and Abrams' 3-point attempt at the other end was off the mark, resulting in a Rutgers win.

Despite scoring a whopping 17 points off turnovers, Illinois struggled on the offensive end, shooting just 35.6 percent on the game — 34.4 percent in the second half — and going 8-for-25 from 3-point range. Rutgers shot 50 percent in the second half and finished with edges in rebounds, second-chance points and points in the paint.

The loss dropped the Illini to 18-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten, locking them into the No. 9 spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Washington. Listed as one of the last four teams out of field in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's most recent projection, Illinois was firmly on the tournament bubble heading into Saturday's game. But it's hard to imagine the Illini still being in that conversation after an unexpected loss to the team at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

The team played so much better during this late-season run, but an off day on offense Saturday means what could have been a feel-good story about an unlikely run to the NCAA tournament will again transform into scrutiny over Groce's job status. Should the now-expected happen and the Illini are not in the field of 68, it will be four straight years under Groce without an invitation to the Big Dance.

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

The Big Ten announced on Thursday that they will not play any non-conference games this fall, if they’re able to play at all.

The move comes after the Ivy League cancelled all fall sports earlier in the week.

In the statement the Big Ten said, “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

“In addition, the Conference announced that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

The Big Ten also said they’re prepared to cancel their fall sports entirely, if needed to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes.

This all leads to more questions as to how the Big Ten schedule will ultimately take shape. For instance, the first three games on the University of Illinois’s schedule are all non-conference games. Will more in-conference games be scheduled to replace them, or will the Fighting Illini simply begin their season on Oct. 3 with their first conference game against Rutgers?

All of that remains to be seen, as the conference said more details regarding the conference-only schedule will be released later.


RELATED: Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

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USA Today

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will no longer host their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field. The university announced the decision on Wednesday.

The Wildcats were supposed to play the Badgers at the Friendly Confines on Nov. 7. Although the university didn’t officially announce it, team's website says the game will be played at Ryan Field.

“This is a disappointing conclusion to reach, but absolutely the right one in our current environment,” said Jim Phillips, Northwestern’s Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. “The uncertainty of football and baseball schedules, and the possibility of limited attendance, made this an easy choice to make for our student-athletes and fans.

“We’re grateful for our outstanding partners from the Cubs, and look forward to bringing the passion and pageantry of college football gameday to the city’s north side when we can do so safely and securely with a packed house.”

Northwestern initially brought college football back to Wrigley in 2010. Previously the last college football game at Wrigley was played in 1938. Since then, Northwestern has hosted both lacrosse and baseball games at Clark and Addison.

The university is still on track to kick off their season on Sept. 5 at Michigan State.

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