Big Ten

The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn't like the Big Ten — but should we blame them?

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USA TODAY

The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn't like the Big Ten — but should we blame them?

The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn't think much of the Big Ten.

But should we blame them?

For the first time — taking a cue from the must-see TV that is the weekly releases of rankings ahead of the final picks for College Football Playoff — the tourney selection committee is releasing top-16 rankings ahead of Selection Sunday.

The first batch came Saturday, 21 days before the entire bracket will be officially announced. The field of 16 teams, complete with which regions the Nos 1 through 4 seeds would be placed in, looked to set up for a pretty fun Big Dance.

Here's how it shook out:

Notice anything strange? Look again. You won't see a single Big Ten team among the committee's top 16.

At first blush, that seems a bit outrageous, right? Even in a down season, could the Big Ten really not claim one of the top 16 teams in the country? And it becomes especially head-scratching when you look at the AP top-25 rankings, the most recent of which have Wisconsin as the No. 7 team in the country and Purdue at No. 16.

But think on things a little bit longer, and perhaps you too will struggle to come up with a reason why the Badgers, the Boilermakers or any other Big Ten team belongs in the top 16 over any of the squads the committee placed there.

The sad truth this season is that the Big Ten has just not been that impressive. Top to bottom, that's plainly true. After the top three or four teams, there's a significant drop off into mediocrity. While bracketologists still seem intent on handing out invites to as many as eight teams from the conference, does anyone who watches the league on a regular basis see the likes of Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan as March contenders?

While that's a more broad conversation, it shows how the conference as a whole reflects on the top two teams. The Badgers and Boilers weren't included in the top 16 on Saturday because it seems the committee doesn't view being one of the top two teams in the Big Ten as a very noteworthy accomplishment in 2016-17.

Separately, both Wisconsin and Purdue have had their stumbles. Sure, the Badgers look good when it comes to results, but how they've gotten those results hasn't always been pretty. Wisconsin is on an eight-game win streak and has lost just once since Thanksgiving, but half of its last six wins have come in overtime against weaker competition. The Badgers barely survived against Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska. A team deserving of conversation for a No. 1 seed probably shouldn't be doing that. Purdue, meanwhile, boasts one of the frontrunners for national player of the year, but the Boilers have losses to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, surely results that affected their standing with the committee.

But it's not only the teams at the top who should be worried about not getting a top-four seed. Lower down the standings, maybe there are more Big Ten bubble teams than the bracketologists believe. Maybe the Spartans, Gophers and Wolverines start slipping out of the projections entirely, like the Indiana Hoosiers already have started doing. Maybe Northwestern should be a little worried about landing on that bubble considering what the committee seemingly thinks about the league as a whole.

There's a month more of basketball to be played, and all this could change come not only Selection Sunday but as soon as next week. But for now, though, it looks like Wisconsin and Purdue have some work to do to impress their way into a higher seed. The biggest question is whether they even have the power to do that as mediocrity continues to reign in the standings below them.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

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

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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.