No. 11 Illinois falls in Big Ten opener at Purdue

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Illinois was in the midst of a 10-2 run to cut what was a 10 point lead down to 63-61 when Purdue’s Jacob Lawson missed two free throws with 20 seconds left. The ball took a funny bounce off the rim and rolled towards the corner. Senior guard DJ Byrd fought off a box out from Sam McLaurin, chased down the loose ball and managed to call a timeout from his knees before his momentum carried him out of bounds.

On the ensuing inbounds, Purdue found Byrd under the basket, and he laid the ball in while drawing a foul, putting the Boilermakers up five, sealing the 68-61 win over No. 11 Illinois.

Before I get into anything specific about either team, there’s something that needs to be made abundantly clear: this game was played at Purdue in Mackey Arena.

And if there is anything that we know is consistently true about college basketball, it’s that winning on the road is a very difficult thing to do, especially in conference play. Illinois, which has dropped eight straight to Purdue, was within one possession on two different occasions in the final minute. This wasn’t exactly a blowout. That’s something to keep in mind here.

Having said that, there is plenty that we can take out of this game.

For starters, Purdue provided every team in the Big Ten with the blueprint for how to beat Illinois.

– Step 1: Contain Brandon Paul. He finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, but had seven points when the Illini were down 10 with about three minutes left. He hit two threes on back-to-back possessions to get Illinois within three.

– Step 2: Don’t allow Illinois’ other wings to get hot from keep. Joseph Betrand, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams were a combined 4-16 from three.

– Step 3: Get to the offensive glass. Purdue had 17 offensive boards and notched an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.6%.

But Purdue also showed why the Big Ten is going to be such a tough and competitive league in 2013.

The Boilermakers are, by most accounts, no better than ninth in the Big Ten heading into league play. But they are also a young team that’s finally getting healthy. Terone Johnson, who found his way onto a lot of breakout player lists and was battling injuries earlier in the year, finished with a season-high 25 points in the win. DJ Byrd, who was shooting 30.7% from three coming in, hit 4-9 from beyond the arc.

(Byrd hit six of his first seven at Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but missed 19 straight threes after that. He’s 12-26 since hitting his second three against Notre Dame four games ago. He’s streaky, but when he gets it going, he’s dangerous.)

The bottom line is this: Illinois isn’t a team built to win games on the road. They rely too heavily on the three and on Brandon Paul. But regardless of opponent, a road win in the Big Ten is not going to be an easy thing to come by.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.