Big East Basketball Tournament - First Round

Illinois’ Aaron Cosby looking to step forward after sitting out last season as a transfer

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The 2013-14 season didn’t provide the results the Illinois Fighting Illini hoped for, with John Groce’s team landing in the Postseason NIT and finishing the year with a 20-15 record. Illinois will return all five starters from that team, led by guards Rayvonte Rice (15.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Tracy Abrams (10.7, 3.5, 3.2 apg), and one of the positives from last season was the amount of playing time their newcomers received.

Malcolm Hill (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Kendrick Nunn (6.2, 1.7) and Jaylon Tate (1.8, 1.9 apg) all played at least 12.2 minutes per game as freshmen, with Hill and Nunn moving into the starting lineup during Big Ten play. That experience will help Illinois as they look to return to the NCAA tournament, but there is a question to be answered: who will step up as the team’s third scoring option?

One player looking to work his way into the mix is redshirt junior guard Aaron Cosby, who sat out last season after transferring in from Seton Hall. In two seasons as a Pirate, Cosby averaged 9.8 points per game and he along with Ahmad Starks (formerly at Oregon State) give Illinois some additional experience on the perimeter.

In preparation for the upcoming season Cosby played on an all-star team put together by Sports Reach that visited China, and according to the Chicago Tribune it was a productive experience for Cosby. Cosby scored an average of 18.1 points per game during the trip (nine games), and the experience allowed him to experience the game competition that was missing during his year in residency.

“It was good to get back out there on the court and kind of shake the rust off,” Cosby told Shannon Ryan of the Tribune. “It felt really good to get that competitive drive back. I’d been doing drills or 4-5 minute scrimmages in practice (last year).”

Illinois returns a lot from last season but they’ll be without their third and fourth-leading scorers in Joseph Bertrand (8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Jon Ekey (7.3, 4.8). Rice is a proven scorer and Abrams also averaged double figures last season, but others will need to step forward if the Fighting Illini are to improve on their 2013-14 performance. Cosby is one player capable of doing so, and the hope is that he can build on his spring trip to China.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: