Tracy Abrams, Jared Swopshire

No. 23 Illinois continues to struggle offensively in 68-54 loss to Northwestern

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During much of the non-conference portion of their schedule, No. 23 Illinois had it rolling from beyond the arc. That success from the perimeter led some to believe that maybe John Groce’s team could compete for a spot in the top half of the Big Ten.

But once the perimeter shots stopped falling the Fighting Illini began to struggle offensively, and those issues continued on Thursday night as they fell to Northwestern by the final score of 68-54.

Illinois (14-5, 1-4 Big Ten) shot 3-of-21 from beyond the arc, and over the last three games the Illini have shot a frigid 8-of-59 from distance. When a team shoots that poorly from deep and turns the ball over 18 times it doesn’t matter if they shoot 16-of-28 from inside of the arc and score 24 points in the paint.

By comparison Reggie Hearn led five Wildcats (11-7, 2-3) in double figures with 20 points, and as a team Northwestern shot 50% from the field and 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. Northwestern hit eight three-pointers in the first half as they built a 36-21 halftime lead, and they were able to hold on despite some issues handling the Illinois pressure in the latter stages of the second half.

One big question in the aftermath of this result is what’s wrong with Illinois offensively. Entering Thursday the Illini ranked ninth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (38.6%) and 11th in three-point percentage (25.3%) in conference play.

Brandon Paul led all scorers with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting, but removing his numbers the rest of the team managed to shoot just 10-of-32 from the field. And with Illinois’ reliance on the jump shot numbers such as those aren’t going to get it done.

It isn’t impossible to win games when you’re struggling offensively, but the task become far tougher when you’re not getting it done defensively either. Each of Illinois’ last three opponents have shot 49% or better from the field, and after a trip to Nebraska they’ll begin a stretch of five straight games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25.

Within a month Illinois has gone from being a team poised to be a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten to one in search of answers. And given how tough the Big Ten has proven to be, this isn’t the best time to be mired in a shooting slump.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Rutgers hoping new duo can bring a spark

of the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during their Big Ten conference game at Rutgers Athletic Center on February 8, 2015 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
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Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.

With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.

“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”

Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.

While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.

LSU looking into starting lineup options

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - MARCH 7:  Head Coach Johnny Jones of the LSU Tigers watches his team play during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena on March 7, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 81-78.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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LSU football and Leonard Fournette are off to a strong start this fall, but the beginning of October also means that college hoops is right around the corner. If you’re a Tigers basketball fan, you also have plenty to be excited about on the hardwood this season with the arrival of a loaded freshman class headlined by forward Ben Simmons.

While the versatile Simmons has solidified a spot in the starting lineup for next season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Johnny Jones uses the rest of his talented freshmen. In a story from Sheldon Mickles of the New Orleans Advocate, he looks into some potential LSU starting lineups.

Freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American with Simmons, is also expected to start, but does another talented freshman guard, Brandon Sampson get a shot to start? And what of Arizona transfer Craig Victor when he’s eligible to play in December?

Mickles believes the early favorite for starting lineup is guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and center Darcy Malone. When Victor returns, Mickles said Victor could push Simmons into the “center” position, which would be a matchup nightmare on the opposition because Simmons would be very tough for many college centers to defend.

Sampson also gets a mention from Mickles of having the potential to start down the line. Overall, a good problem to have for Jones and he’ll have to experiment to see which lineups are giving him the most. Having a productive starting five is nice, but I’m sure Jones would love to find the five players he wants to close with.