Chicago Colleges: College Basketball
Illinois Fighting Illini: John Groce continues to make strides in rebuilding the program. Preview
Northwestern Wildcats: Chris Collins' arrival has brought plenty of excitement to Evanston. Preview
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Irish offensive style may change, but they should remain successful. Preview
DePaul Blue Demons: Amid a major roster overhaul, the Blue Demons will likely struggle again. Preview
Loyola (IL) Ramblers: Are Ramblers ready for the challenge of the Missouri Valley? Preview
Illinois-Chicago Flames: Defense-focused Flames will need offensive boost to move up in Horizon. Preview
In front of the Wildcats' team, Collins announced Montgomery would receive a full scholarship this year.
"He has as much energy as anybody on the team. ... He's our best perimeter defender," Collins told the team in a clip posted on Northwestern's You Tube channel. "The guy through 12 practices that has done the best job of doing what he's supposed to do every day is James."
The video clip also shows Montgomery, who is from Los Angeles, sharing the news by phone with his overjoyed mother and sister.
Montgomery spent his freshman season as a practice player with the women's team before making the Wildcats' roster as a sophomore. He scored 17 points in limited action over the last two seasons under coach Bill Carmody and clearly made a quick impression on his new coach, Collins, this season.
Through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization which tries to improve the lives of children with life-threatening diseases, Bradley was connected with Johnah, who is recovering from Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that begins in the adrenal glands and is found in mostly young children. Jonah has been undergoing treatment, which has included six rounds of chemotherapy, an eight-hour surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor and stem-cell transplants, for the last 1½ years.
“For us, it’s really an amazing opportunity,” the brothers’ mother, Kelly Belinger-Sahrs, said in a phone interview on Monday. “Johnah spent most of the last year and a half in the hospital or not able to participate in childhood activities. For him to be able to have the team’s support, to be involved not just in the community, but Bradley University, its athletics and team, it gives him something he couldn’t do a year ago. For our family, it’s a blessing.”
The brothers signed "letters of intent" on Friday at a ceremony at Bradley’s Renaissance Coliseum. They were given a tour of the facilities by Bradley players Mason Alwan, Anthony Fields, Jordan Prosser and Jordan Swopshire. The four players will serve as mentors to the brothers this season. The brothers will also have lockers with the rest of the team and have been invited to sit on the bench during practices and games.
“It was an easy thing to do, and it feels like we’re really helping the kids,” Ford said in a phone interview on Monday. “I certainly hope we are, and the kids seem to have a great time with our players. That being said, it has been at a very minimum just as good for our players as it has been for them. We’ve probably got the better end of the deal. Johnah has undergone some incredible adversities. I think it puts a lot of things in perspective for our players and coaches about what adversity can mean.”
Johnah and his family will travel to St. Jude’s in Memphis this week for another scanning. Kelly said they were hopeful there would be no traces of cancer found in Johnah’s system.
“This is a big week for us,” Kelly said.
Bradley announced in a press release, “A 3-foot-4-inch guard, Johnah Sahrs will wear uniform number 1. He becomes both the youngest and the shortest player in Bradley Basketball history. Standing 4-foot-5-inches, Jarret Sahrs will wear uniform number 32. “
Johnah’s parents, Timothy Sahrs and Kelly, have created a Facebook page to chronicle their son’s cancer battle. The Facebook page is called “Johnah's Journey: The Neuroblastoma Ninja' s Road to Recovery.”
This is true of most places during basketball season; they play the game inside for a reason. But nowhere in major college basketball does the futility and depression of winter seep so thoroughly into the gym itself.
That's the next part of the Welsh-Ryan experience, and it hits just as hard. Thing is, Wildcats fans know -- not gut-feeling know, but know know, because after all it is a provable historical fact -- that not only will the Wildcats lose, but they'll do so in a gym half-full with gleeful opposing fans.
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The NCAA's release said Walker made "inappropriate contact" with a game official and "verbally confronted" the game officials and a police officer following the game March 24.
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The Illinois-Colorado winner will play the winner of No. 2-seeded Miami and No. 15-seeded Pacific in the third round on Sunday.
“Our main goal throughout the season was just to get better every day, putting 100 percent,” Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul said. “3-19-13 (first day of the NCAA tournament) was on our wrist bands, and when we finally saw our name called it was pretty much a blessing. We were excited about it, and we were excited about the challenge ahead.”
The Illini went 22-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten. Their quality wins included at Gonzaga, Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota, who they defeated twice. They are ranked No. 39 in RPI and No. 63 in ESPN’s BPI.
Colorado was 21-11 overall and 10-8 in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes’ quality wins include Arizona, Baylor and Oregon. They are ranked No. 38 in RPI and No. 39 in BPI.
Illinois began the season with 12 consecutive wins and shot up to No. 10 in the AP poll. After a 13-1 non-conference season, the Illini dropped seven of their first nine Big Ten games. They bounced back with a win over No. 1-ranked Indiana on Feb. 7 and closed out the conference season winning six of their final nine games.
“They had that (tournament) goal from the very beginning when I met with (them),” Illinois' first-year coach John Groce said. “They really solidified that as something they wanted to do in the fall when we first got together and talked in particular to our seniors. To see that come to fruition in a way they had to grind it out and be really tough at different parts of the season when maybe others doubted them, but I think it’s a great life lesson for our guys. Certainly not satisfied because we have work to do, but I’m a proud for those guys.”
Groce said after Friday’s loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament he was happy with the way his team was playing headed into the NCAA tournament.
“I would like to play two complete halves defensively and offensively. But I like our mindset,” Groce said. “I like our body language. I like our passion. I thought we really competed in this tournament both days. I thought we really played hard. I thought we played for one another. I think the guys are playing the game right way. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward here in the next few days and figure out how we can put together two halves when we’re defending and playing good offense. I think that’s the next step.”
Illinois did not appear in the NCAA Tournament last season and has been selected twice in the previous five years. The Illini haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005.
Illinois fired Bruce Weber after the program failed to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. Groce was hired after taking Ohio to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012 in four seasons.
Loyola will honor players from the 1962-63 team during Saturday’s game against Illinois-Chicago. Former players John Egan, Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter, Ron Miller, Don Connaughton and Rich Rochelle are expected to be in attendance.
The Ramblers won their first 20 games in the 1962-63 season and went 24-2 in the regular season. They defeated Tennessee Tech by 69 points in the NCAA tournament’s opening round, Mississippi State in the second round, Illinois in the quarterfinals, Duke in the semifinals and came back from 15 points to defeat Cincinnati in overtime of the title game. Vic Rouse scored the game-winning basket when he tipped in a rebound at the buzzer.
“We’re 50 years away and the visions of that year jump through your mind,” the 72-year-old Harkness said by phone on Friday. “To see him tap that back, you don’t know at first. You’re thinking, ‘We still got a few seconds to go. Then all of a sudden, you see people running together. I ran toward the pile, too. That stays with you. It really does.”
ST. LOUIS -- A quick look at No. 12 Missouri’s 82-73 win against No. 10 Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game Saturday at the Scottrade Center.
Overview: Missouri has had Illinois’ numbers in recent years, and the Tigers continued that trend Saturday as they defeated the Illini for the fourth consecutive season in one of their more intense and physical rivalry games.
The Illini had been living by the 3-pointer through their first 12 wins, and they died by it against the Tigers. They connected on only 8 of their 32 3-point attempts. Illinois was shooting .386 from 3-point range heading into the game.
While Illinois struggled from deep, Missouri played to its two strengths -- point guard Phil Pressey and its size. Tigers big men Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi combined for 36 points and 24 rebounds. Pressey had trouble shooting, but he still dictated the pace and had a game-high 11 assists.
Turning point: Missouri wasn’t able to pull away from Illinois until the final minutes. The Tigers closed the game on a 10-3 run. Pressey and Jabari Brown combined for eight points in the run.
Key player: Pressey proved the theory that a player can influence a game without shooting well. He was 3-of-19 from the field and finished with 12 points. But he still was a difference-maker as he pushed the tempo and found open teammates.
Key stat: The Tigers outrebounded Illinois 58-35, including 22-14 on the offensive glass.
Miscellaneous: This was the third consecutive season both teams came into the game ranked. They were a combined 63-5 in the past three seasons leading up to the Braggin’ Rights games. ... Illinois junior guard Joseph Bertrand was 9-of-9 from the field in last season’s game and hit his first shot Saturday. He missed his next three. ... Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul scored a team-high 23 points and had five assists.
Up next: Illinois closes out its nonconference schedule by hosting Auburn at the United Center in Chicago on Dec. 29. The Illini have lost their past two games in Chicago, falling to UNLV by 16 points last season and being upset by UIC the season before. ... Missouri has two more nonconference games remaining before beginning SEC play. The Tigers travel to UCLA on Dec. 28 and host Bucknell on Jan. 5.
"There are how many undefeated teams in the country now?" Illinois' head coach asked after his Illini had defeated the Bulldogs. "Somebody's got to notice."
Of course, the coach who made those comments wasn't John Groce. It was Bruce Weber. In 2011.
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As a head coach, you plan for both your opponents' best actions and their best players. Personally, I always felt it was easier to defend against a system than it was to defend against a player who has an elite ability to create plays either for himself or for his teammates. Tricky plays are tough to defend against; tricky players can be impossible to stop.
Good players earn the respect of opposing coaches, but the players your defense must contain for your team to win are the ones who keep head coaches up at night, which is why I call them "matchup nightmares."
Here is my ranking of the 10 toughest players in the nation to defend against, and a game plan for each that opponents should try to enact to slow them down.
1. Russ Smith, G, Louisville Cardinals
Smith might be the best one-on-one player in college basketball. A high-volume shooter who changes speed and direction, Smith can get a shot off any time he wants. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino allows him to probe the defense and gives him the green light to attack the basket and create plays on his own. Smith can play off Peyton Siva's penetration or take the reins as the team's primary ball handler. He explodes off screens and can finish with an array of different layups.
On defense, he is relentless both off the ball and as an aggressive, on-ball defender in the Louisville press. Smith averages three steals per game, which often are live-ball turnovers that lead to transition layups.
Game plan: You need to defend Smith with a bigger defender, if possible. Keep him in front and stay down on his change-of-direction, change-of-pace game. Defenders need to use size to their advantage and close with their hands above the ball. Use help defenders to shrink the court so he doesn't have gaps through which to drive. Defenders must go over all side ball screens, and on flat and shake ball screens, the help defender must stay with the ball and make Smith a passer. With Smith, as is the case with all the players on this list, all five defenders need to be alert when he has the ball. One player may have the primary responsibility, but everyone else has a secondary responsibility. It needs to be five versus one.
2. Trey Burke, G, Michigan WolverinesRead the entire story here.
Late on the evening of March 8, 2012, Ohio took the floor at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland to play Toledo. At the time there wasn't an abundance of attention being paid to a MAC quarterfinal between a No. 3 seed and a No. 7 seed that tipped at 9:55 p.m., but it actually marked the beginning of a rather remarkable run.
Starting with the opening tip of that game, teams playing for John Groce -- which is to say Ohio in the 2011-12 postseason, and Illinois so far this season -- have devoted 43 percent of their shot attempts to 3-pointers, and have connected on those attempts 40.5 percent of the time. Groce's record over that stretch stands at 15-1, and he is yet to lose a game in regulation. (Ohio, you may remember, lost in overtime to North Carolina in the Sweet 16.)
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Paul scored a season-high 35 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the Illini's road win over Gonzaga on Saturday. He sank nine of his 11 shots, made five 3-pointers and was 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. He also had four rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
"I thought it was a spectacular performance," Illinois coach John Groce said of Paul after Saturday's game. "I really believe it. He's one of the best guards in the country, one of the best players in the country, and he played like it (Saturday.)"
Paul also had 14 points in a win over Western Carolina earlier in the week.
Paul has been the Big Ten Player of Week twice in his career. His last award came on Jan. 16 after he scored a career-high 43 points against Ohio State.
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