Big Ten

Wisconsin, which seemed to be the Big Ten's best, now loser of two straight after upset defeat at Michigan

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USA TODAY

Wisconsin, which seemed to be the Big Ten's best, now loser of two straight after upset defeat at Michigan

Heading into last weekend, Wisconsin had lost just once since Thanksgiving.

But Thursday night in Ann Arbor, the Badgers dropped their second straight, making you wonder if maybe the NCAA tournament knew what it was doing by leaving them out of its top 16 seeds.

Michigan scored its biggest win of the season and boosted its own tourney hopes with a 64-58 win over Wisconsin, Moritz Wagner and Zak Irvin combining for 39 points in the victory.

Again, the Badgers struggled offensively, shooting just 39 percent from the field on the night and failing to reach the 30-point mark in the second half. Wisconsin was 9-for-29 from the field in the second half and 3-for-15 from 3-point range on the game.

Ethan Happ, who was shut down in Wisconsin's home loss to Northwestern on Sunday, scored 18 points in the first half but just four after halftime. Bronson Koenig didn't play Thursday night, and Nigel Hayes had a pretty quiet night offensively, scoring just six points.

Wisconsin beat Michigan on second-chance points 10-2 and in points in the paint 36-24. But the cold shooting meant those statistical advantages were nowhere near enough.

The Wolverines shot 46 percent on the night and made nine 3-pointers. Wagner and Irvin alone were a combined 14-for-26 from the field and 5-for-11 from 3. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman chipped in 12 points.

The Badgers led by as many as eight early in the second half, but a 12-4 spurt by the Wolverines tied the game at 42. Shortly thereafter a 9-0 burst turned a modest Wisconsin lead in a seven-point edge for Michigan, and the Wolverines led for the remainder.

The win was a huge one for Michigan and ought to go a long way on getting the Wolverines — now 17-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten — on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.

Questions about Wisconsin's less-than-dominant performances in overtime wins against the likes of Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska have now turned into full-blown panic for a team that as recently as this past weekend looked like the Big Ten's best chance to contend for a national championship. Two straight losses will strip the Badgers of that distinction, with the conference's best title hopes likely belonging to Purdue or perhaps even Maryland for the time being.

The offensive production has been the biggest problem in recent games for Wisconsin. The absence of Koenig — be it physically or just statistically — and the inconsistent production of Hayes, the Big Ten preseason player of the year, have put an awful lot on Happ's shoulders. And even a 22-point effort Thursday night wasn't enough.

Since the Badgers and Wolverines last tangled on Jan. 17 — a 68-64 win for Wisconsin — the past nine games have been offensively challenging for the red and white. They've averaged 66.4 points a game and have shot a combined 41 percent from the field. That stretch, during which Wisconsin has posted a 7-2 record, has featured just two games with more than 25 made baskets and two games with fewer than 20 made baskets.

The college basketball season has its ebbs and flows, sure. Last season, Wisconsin started conference play 1-4 before rattling off a seven-game win streak, wins in 11 of its final 13 regular-season games and a run to the Sweet Sixteen.

But the difference between the bad times this year and the bad times this year is that these bad times are coming at the worst time, down the stretch.

The selection committee didn't think Wisconsin was one of the 16 best teams in the country last Saturday. Since the Badgers have gone 0-2, so don't expect to committee to think any better of them this weekend.

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

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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.