Big Ten

Look out, March, the Spartans are here ... again


Look out, March, the Spartans are here ... again

INDIANAPOLIS — As Denzel Valentine spoke Friday night after Michigan State's latest March victory, Tom Izzo was grinning from ear to ear.

"It's March Madness time. It's time to play," Valentine said. "This is what we have all been waiting for. Postseason. This is time. This is where everybody gets to have great moments and has great memories."

That's more than just the company line coming from one of the leading candidates for national player of the year honors and a guy who just might go down as one of the more notable players in Michigan State hoops history — which is really saying something, by the way.

What Valentine was expressing was the urgency, the focus, the desire and the expectation of winning in March.

At Michigan State, winning in March is old hat. Izzo's teams have been to seven Final Fours. And they've won four of these Big Ten Tournament titles, something the Spartans will have a chance to play for should they beat Maryland on Saturday in Indy. Win or lose this weekend, this version of Michigan State's basketball team has its sights set on a national championship, and why shouldn't it? Not only does Izzo's team make its loudest noise this time of the year practically every season, but this campaign has shown the Spartans are one of the teams with the best chance to win it all. Currently, Michigan State has the No. 2 ranking in the country, and with a win in this Big Ten Tournament, it will likely lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans look championship-caliber in flying past Buckeyes]

Most teams talk about taking things one game at a time and looking only one day ahead. But Michigan State's goals are so big, and the Spartans have no problems openly talking about what they want to achieve.

"I think we're so hungry, and that is the thing. Our goal, when we got here, was to win a national championship. And we haven't accomplished that yet. We have the perfect team, I think, to do it this year," Valentine said. "So us, as seniors and the senior class, we are really hungry to do that and accomplish that goal. So ever since the season got over last year, going to the Final Four and being that close, it only just drove us that much more to get back. Not only that, try to win this (Big Ten Tournament) championship. And then see what happens after that. So we have been hungry, and that has been driving us."

Friday, the Spartans certainly looked every bit a team that has plans to plow through March. Michigan State walloped Ohio State, 81-54, outscoring the Buckeyes by 20 in the second half, where the Spartans shot 60.6 percent from the field. Valentine scored 19 points and came a rebound and two assists shy of another triple-double. Michigan State scored 21 points off 14 Ohio State turnovers. And all that after a first half that saw poor shooting and just a six-point halftime lead.

Ohio State, on the NCAA tournament bubble, probably needed a win over Michigan State to get into the field of 68. The Buckeyes were labeled as "desperate." Well, after the Spartans shellacked them in the second half, Valentine wanted to apply that word elsewhere.

"We're desperate, too," Valentine said. "We want to win the championship. We can't worry about their feelings and them being desperate. We have to worry about us and how we play. We didn't accomplish one of our goals, and that was to win the Big Ten (regular-season) championship outright. And we're kind of mad about it. Me and Matt (Costello) never won a Big Ten championship outright. So we are kind of mad right now, and we have something to play for: that we want to be the No. 1 seed. We have goals too. It's just not them. And that's what I think people misunderstood."

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

There are plenty of good teams out there, and this season has shown that even the good teams are never safe from an upset. Add that to the typical madness of March, and there's really no way of telling which teams are going to be playing for a national title in Houston.

History, both extended and recent, tells us that Izzo's team has as good a shot as any to cut down the nets. Valentine told us Friday night that the Spartans might have the best.

"Our motto is 'be different' this year. It's been that from the start," Valentine said. "We want to be different from everybody else because we don't want to be like everybody else. We want bigger things and better things than everybody else. And how we play, we determine that. So we want to be different, like I said, and that motivated us for today."

Look out March, the Spartans are here. Again.

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.