Big Ten

Wisconsin stops slide with emphatic win over red-hot Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Wisconsin stops slide with emphatic win over red-hot Minnesota

Wisconsin doesn't want you counting it out of the running for Big Ten Tournament and NCAA tournament titles quite yet.

Entering Sunday's regular-season finale, the Badgers had dropped three straight and five of six. But they bounced back in a big way, stuffing rival Minnesota by a 66-49 score up in Madison.

The Golden Gophers saw their eye-popping eight-game winning streak snapped with the double-digit blowout defeat. Richard Pitino's team had a chance to ride into the Big Ten Tournament without a loss since late January, but instead it was the Badgers clinching the No. 2 seed in next week's conference tournament in Washington.

Wisconsin shut down Minnesota in this one, limiting the visitors to 32.1-percent shooting on the night and a grotesque 23.3-percent mark in the second half.

The Gophers led by a bucket at the break, though neither team reached 30 points in the opening 20 minutes. The Badgers responded with a dominant second half, shooting 50 percent from the field and splashing home eight of their 10 3-point tries after halftime. Minnesota was just 3-for-13 from 3 on the night and got a grand total of 19 points from everyone not named Nate Mason and Amir Coffey.

Bronson Koenig knocked down five triples and finished with a game-high 17 points. Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter scored 12 points apiece, the trio of seniors combining for 41 in their final game at the Kohl Center.

The win sends the Badgers into the Big Ten Tournament in far better shape than they were just a few hours prior. Wisconsin entered on a nightmarish stretch that started with a home loss to Northwestern, featured three road losses and culminated in this week's home loss to Iowa on a last-second bucket from Jordan Bohannon. Once the Big Ten's best hope to compete for a national title, some folks were wondering on social media if the Badgers would win another game this season. While a slide-snapping victory against any opponent would have been huge just to get back in the win column, getting one against Minnesota — considering how well the Gophers had been playing — is gigantic heading into the postseason.

Minnesota, meanwhile, won't enter the Big Ten Tournament as the conference's hottest team. On an eight-game roll, it looked like the Gophers might've been able to claim to be the favorite in Washington. But Sunday's defeat paired with a big road win for Purdue will likely leave the Boilermakers as the favorite. Still, Pitino's remarkable turnaround effort will still give the Gophers a double bye and the No. 4 seed.

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

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NBC Sports Chicago

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

After trying to add a Division I men's ice hockey program at the University of Illinois for nearly three years, the school was finally close. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Chicago Tribune reported Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman told media on Monday that the university was forced to "hit the pause button" on the hopes and dreams of alums, sports fans and young hockey players with midwest ties. 

“Clearly with everything that’s changed here in the last six weeks, it makes sense for us to hit the — at least the short-term — pause button on that project while we wait and let things unfold in the weeks and months ahead,” Whitman said.

According to Whitman, U of I was about a month away from forming the program before the pandemic changed things.

The state of Illinois produces the fourth-most college hockey players but has no Division I hockey team yet. 

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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.