Big Ten

Kansas mops the floor with another Big Ten team as Purdue bounced from NCAA tournament

Kansas mops the floor with another Big Ten team as Purdue bounced from NCAA tournament

Purdue was hands-down the best team in the Big Ten this season. But when it's all said and done at the end of this NCAA tournament, Kansas might be the best team in the country.

The Jayhawks proved to be just way too much for the Boilermakers in Thursday night's Sweet Sixteen matchup, using a monster second half to sprint away from the Big Ten regular-season champs and win by a 98-66 score.

Purdue's season came to an end with the loss, though it will be a memorable campaign, one that stretched to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010.

But much like it did this past weekend against Michigan State, Kansas exploded on a massive second-half run and went from a narrow lead to an gargantuan one in a hurry, flexing its muscles as perhaps the best team remaining in this tournament field.

The incredibly talented duo of Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson scorched the Boilers, combining for 41 points. But it was actually Devonte' Graham that along with Mason led the Jayhawks with 26 points.

Kansas shot 53.6 percent from 3-point range on the night, splashing home 15 of the 28 triples it hoisted.

Purdue's own player of the year candidate, Caleb Swanigan, helped the team stay alive in the early stages of the second half after a 20-7 run gave Kansas a seven-point lead at halftime. After an ugly first half for the Big Ten Player of the Year — six points, two rebounds, 1-for-2 from the field, four turnovers — Swanigan's third 3-pointer of the night cut the gap to just two about three and a half minutes into the second half.

But that's when the Jayhawks took off, putting together an eye-popping 31-9 run to turn that two-point advantage into a 24-point lead in little more than 10 minutes. At one point, Kansas scored eight straight to grab its first double-digit lead of the night, the capper to that burst a Jackson 3-pointer that seemed to end the game right then and there despite the ample amount of time remaining on the clock.

When it was all over, Kansas outscored Purdue 45-15 from that two-point deficit at 53-51.

Swanigan, despite that poor first half, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. Vincent Edwards, who scored a combined 42 points in the first two games of this tournament, had himself an quiet night with just eight points.

Purdue shot 55.6 percent in the first half but just 31 percent over the game's final 20 minutes. The Boilers also turned the ball over 16 times, leading to a boatload of points for the Jayhawks.

The win advanced Kansas to the Elite Eight, where it will take on Oregon, which beat Purdue's conference-mate Michigan earlier Thursday night. The Jayhawks have been piling up the points in the tournament and became the first team to score 90 or more points in each of its first three tournament games in 22 years.

The loss brought an end to things for Purdue, which had a terrific season despite the blowout finish. The Boilers won the Big Ten title outright and made their third Sweet Sixteen under Matt Painter.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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