Illinois Public Media News
Butler coach Brad Stevens loves an underdog, whether it's his team back in the Final Four or Connecticut making an unprecedented five-games-in-five-nights run through the Big East tournament.
A Big East team as an underdog? The coach at tiny Butler cheering for big, bad UConn?
Welcome to the bizarro world of college basketball in 2011 - a sport where not only is anything possible, but where nothing quite makes sense. A sport in which the story of a small school from a small conference making a run to a title is no more rare than that of the late-season magic conjured by a power program with one of the nation's best players.
Butler and Connecticut will meet Monday in the national title game - the eighth-seeded Bulldogs trying to finish the deal after coming oh-so-close last season and the third-seeded Huskies (31-9), led by Kemba Walker, talking about shocking the world with their 11th straight victory after a regular season that foreshadowed none of this.
"We were all rooting for UConn because it was a great story," Stevens said, "a lot of fun to follow."
As is Butler, the team from a 4,500-student campus in Indianapolis that practices at Hinkle Fieldhouse, used as the backdrop for the classic movie "Hoosiers" - the based-on-reality melodrama in which tiny Hickory High stares down the biggest schools in Indiana and wins the state championship. On its second try.
What seemed impossible in that movie is becoming more the norm, at least in the college game. Last season, Butler (28-9) came one desperation heave from toppling Duke to become the first true mid-major to win the championship. This season, Butler wasn't even the biggest longshot at the Final Four. That was VCU, an 11th seed that fell to the Bulldogs in Saturday's semifinal.
As recently as 2008, the NCAA tournament landed all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. This year, there wasn't a single 1 or 2 for the first time in the 33-year history of seeding.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said this has been the natural progression since the NCAA started limiting scholarships and new NBA rules triggered a flood of players who would come to college for one year, then declare for the draft.
"It's as close to parity as there can be," Calhoun said. "It certainly can occur in a tournament a lot more than it could playing a Saturday night, then Big Monday. It's just the nature of things. ... The one-and-done thing, walking the tightrope is a hard thing, a very difficult thing."
If anyone can say they've mastered it this season, it's UConn. Led by Walker, the junior guard on the verge of becoming the best player to ever put on a Huskies uniform, Connecticut won five games in five nights against Big East competition to win the postseason tournament.
A remarkable accomplishment in any conference, but especially the Big East - the 16-team behemoth that placed a record 11 teams in the tournament this year. Maybe because of the grueling nature of its regular season, the Big East wore down and had a terrible showing, only moving two teams into the second weekend.
But Connecticut is still standing, a testament to Walker's playmaking ability (he's averaging 25.5 points during this 10-game winning streak) and Calhoun's ability to adjust on the fly to the fatigue that has predictably set in.
"Our code has been very simple: 'The hell with it, let's just go play basketball,'" Calhoun said. "Well, we wouldn't be doing all the things we did last night defensively to Kentucky if we just kind of rolled the thing out there. We worked very hard on it. But we worked on it in a different way."
Connecticut advanced to the final by holding the Wildcats to 33.9 percent shooting in a 56-55 victory Saturday night.
Butler, meanwhile, only needed two wins in four nights to capture the tournament title in the less-heralded Horizon League. Still, the Bulldogs are on a 14-game winning streak that began after losing their third straight back on Feb. 3. At that point, this was a team that had no guarantees it would even make the NCAA field. It looked nothing like the one that captured hearts as it made its run through last year's tournament.
In the final last April, Butler trailed Duke 61-59 with 3.6 seconds left when Gordon Hayward (now playing for Utah in the NBA) grabbed the rebound off an intentionally missed free throw, dribbled four times to the halfcourt line and launched a shot at the buzzer. It hit the backboard, the inside of the rim and bounced out. It could have been the greatest finish ever in sports. It wound up as something less, though Stevens insists he walked away that night feeling like a winner.
"Our guys played as well as they could have," Stevens said. "They represented themselves in an unbelievable manner throughout that whole game. That might be the reason why we had parades, too, even though we lost. It was remarkable the way people treated us even though we lost."
One win away from the pinnacle once again, the Bulldogs are talking about finishing the deal this time. They haven't turned their backs on the heart-tugging story lines that help define them, but they don't fall back on them, either.
"There are some connections to us and 'Hoosiers.' I understand that, and that's nice if people want to make those connections," senior forward Matt Howard said.
Calhoun, trying to become only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles, says he appreciates Butler as much as the next guy. He sees the slow, steady improvement of mid-majors such as Butler and figures there will be more tournaments like this one and more nights like Monday - where the small school and the big school are on even footing.
Maybe one of those days, the little guy will win it all.
"I think it's good for college basketball," Calhoun said. "I think if it starts around 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful thing."
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Butler has stopped a series of college basketball Goliaths on its way to consecutive national championship games, and Monday night will pose a unique challenge: stopping a superstar.
Connecticut's Kemba Walker has carried the Huskies to the finals on a run reminiscent of Danny Manning's performance at Kansas 23 years ago.
Butler's scouting report on the versatile Walker is long and detailed. Unlike Kentucky, which tried to slow Walker down with defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, the Bulldogs will let a handful of players take a shot at keeping him in check.
Coach Brad Stevens says his team respects Walker but can't focus too much attention on him because it could leave room for other UConn players to get loose.
Butler University officials hope the recent success of the school's men's basketball team can help attract donations for a $25 million restoration of the Bulldogs' home arena.
The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that Hinkle Fieldhouse's restoration will begin in the summer of 2012.
About $4.8 million has been raised for the project. Butler's vice president for university advancement, Mark Helmus, says he's "certainly pleased'' the Bulldogs' repeat Final Four trip coincides with the school's plans to expand its fundraising appeal to the general public over the coming months.
The Hinkle restoration will include adding more chair-type seats to the 1928 basketball arena. Those chairs will reduce Hinkle's seating capacity from about 10,000 to about 8,500. But Helmus says "most people don't want season tickets if they're not in chairs.
Illinois says basketball coach Bruce Weber will remain coach of the Illini after reports he was a strong candidate to fill the vacant job at Oklahoma.
Weber said Thursday in a statement that he'd received calls from other unspecified schools but doesn't intend to leave.
The Transcript in Norman, Okla., linked Weber to the vacant Sooners job on Wednesday. Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel earlier this month.
Some Illinois fans have called for Weber to be fired after Illinois' 20-14 finish. The Illini opened the season in the Top 25 with talk about a potential Big Ten title but finished unranked and in fourth place.
Adding to the uncertainty in Champaign is 65-year-old athletics director Ron Guenther's situation. His contract ends this summer and he hasn't ruled out retiring.
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
In a bracket filled with upsets, top-seeded Kansas is jumping for joy.
Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds, powering Kansas past Illinois 73-59 on Sunday night to ensure the Jayhawks wouldn't make an opening-weekend exit from the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The Morris twins scored 24 of Kansas' first 29 points in the second half, punctuated by consecutive two-handed slams by Markieff that made it 62-51 with 3:51 to play. After an Illinois turnover at the other end, the twins each followed Tyshawn Taylor in making leaping spins into teammates to start a timeout.
The Jayhawks (34-2) avoided revisiting their loss to another No. 9 seed, Northern Iowa, exactly a year earlier and also on Oklahoma soil. Instead, they're moving on in a bracket filled with underdogs.
No. 11 seed VCU and 12th-seeded Richmond will join them in the Southwest regional semifinals in San Antonio. Kansas plays Richmond on Friday.
Mike Davis led the Fighting Illini (20-14) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Star point guard Demetri McCamey was hardly a factor, finishing with just six points and seven assists.
McCamey didn't make his first basket of the second half until there was 2:15 left, after Markieff Morris followed his earlier throwdowns with another two-handed alley-oop slam that he had to reach down and retrieve before dunking to make it 66-51.
That completed a 10-0 surge that finally put away the Fighting Illini - hardly a small-time upstart with a senior-laden roster featuring pro prospects McCamey and Davis, who both put their names into the NBA draft before returning for one last season.
The Jayhawks had been down this road before, and never liked it much. Before Northern Iowa, they had another bad experience in Oklahoma City back in 1998, heading home early after a loss to eighth-seeded Rhode Island. Back in 1992, Kansas lost to No. 9 seed UTEP in Dayton, Ohio. All time, the Jayhawks were just 3-2 against No. 9 seeds in their second tournament game.
Stanford is the only other team that's failed even twice to make it to the round of 16 as a top seed.
There's nothing more to add to that dubious history now. Instead, coach Bill Self can celebrate a win against Bruce Weber, the man who replaced him as the Illini coach and once held a mock funeral to encourage everyone in Champaign to move on.
The Illini were within two after Mike Tisdale's jumper to open the second half, and again after Davis' hook shot a few moments later, but never could find out if the Jayhawks would get nervous if they got behind.
Markieff Morris ended up with 24 points and 12 rebounds and his brother had 17 points and 12 boards. Taylor, playing with his right middle finger taped to his ring finger, added 13 points.
D.J. Richardson scored 15 and Tisdale chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds for Illinois.
Eager to avoid another early exit, Kansas raged out to an 18-6 advantage in the first 61/2 minutes. Markieff Morris nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving a confident nod of his head after it went through, and Tyrel Reed followed with his own 3. After a timeout, Elijah Johnson skied for a two-handed throwdown of Marcus Morris' alley-oop pass and the Jayhawks were up by a dozen with 13:39 still left before halftime.
The Illini, retreating toward midcourt with the shot clock running out, got a lift when Brandon Paul's 25-footer from the top of the key dropped in for 3 and eventually pulled back within 28-25 when Richardson finished off a 10-2 comeback with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
All those late-season struggles are behind Mike Davis and Illinois. The NCAA tournament is all that matters now.
Davis tied his season high with 22 points, Demetri McCamey added 17 points and seven assists and Illinois dominated UNLV 73-62 Friday night to set up another meeting between Fighting Illini coaches past and present in the Southwest region of the NCAA tournament.
The ninth-seeded Illini (20-13) took control with an early 15-0 run and led by as many as 25 in a surprisingly easy rout, after losing 10 of their previous 16 games to bring into question whether they'd even make it into the 68-team bracket.
"We always talk about it. It's not what you do at the beginning of the year. ... ... It's about what you do now," McCamey said. "Everybody will forget about what you did at the beginning of the season or the Big Ten season if you go out and win in March."
Bruce Weber's squad led by double digits throughout the second half against eighth-seeded UNLV (24-9), with former Illini coach Lon Kruger in charge. Next up for Illinois is a Sunday night clash against No. 1 seed Kansas and Weber's predecessor, Bill Self.
"It's been such a long time. Both Lon and Bill did tremendous job at Illinois. I respect them. Everywhere they've been they've been very good coaches, there's no doubt," Weber said. "At Illinois, they helped the program.
"I'm just worried about Kansas. That's what I'm really worried about, their players and seeing if we can match up with them."
Illinois moved to 15-0 this season when McCamey has at least seven assists. The Illini played without freshman reserve Jereme Richmond, who was suspended for violating unspecified team rules. Weber said he hadn't decided whether Richmond will play Sunday.
Oscar Bellfield scored 14 to lead the Runnin' Rebels, who had lost just three of their previous 13 games - all against BYU and San Diego State, the Mountain West's pair of top-10 powers.
"It's disappointing for the guys because they played really well in the last month especially, and doing the things they needed to do to create the opportunity to be here," said Kruger, going against Illinois for the first time in his 25 years as a college coach.
"To play like that in the first half, everyone was disappointed for sure."
Illinois was ranked as high as No. 12 at midseason but faded with a series of late-game failures. That wasn't an issue this time.
The Illini were on from the start, handling UNLV's in-your-face defense with ease and building a 23-point lead while shooting 63 percent in the first half. The Runnin' Rebels went scoreless for a span of nearly seven minutes in the first half.
McCamey ran the show, setting up his teammates early and then getting to the basket himself. He started the Illini's big run with back-to-back layups and finished it off with a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 29-12 with 6:51 left before halftime.
Mike Tisdale answered UNLV's next basket - Anthony Marshall's driving layup that resulted in a three-point play - with a highlight-reel throwdown of Brandon Paul's alley-oop and Illinois kept rolling.
McCamey provided the finishing touches with another 3-pointer that dropped in at the halftime buzzer, putting Illinois up 46-24, and then leaped into a teammate before heading to the locker room.
It was the second time in the last three games the Illini were so dominant in the first half. They also rushed out to a 46-21 halftime lead against Indiana on senior day in Champaign. But in between, they squandered a 12-point lead in the final 81/2 minutes against Michigan at the Big Ten tournament to provide a fresh reminder of a season-long quandary heading into the NCAAs.
"I thought they played with a bounce to their step. When that happens and one team gets an upper hand like that, the other team's on it's heels," Kruger said. "It's not like our guys wanted to play with less energy, but Illinois won all of those energy battles. That kind of snowballed on us."
UNLV got within 61-45 on Stanback's jumper with 8 minutes left, but D.J. Richardson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then a layup to bump the lead back to 22 by the 5-minute mark.
A Rebels rally that came way too late made the score look deceivingly close in Illinois' first NCAA tournament win in five years.
"It meant something to our kids, to our seniors, and I'm hoping now they can want more," Weber said. "I told them before the game it's their expectations that matter. How do they approach the game? How do they approach the tournament? What's their desire? It's the same attitude we've got to have on Sunday. We've got a tougher opponent, obviously."
The next task is to make it out of the opening weekend for the first time since losing to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship game. And it won't be an easy one against the Jayhawks, who have lost twice all season and will be trying to exorcise the demons of a second-round loss against Northern Iowa last year.
"It's going to take a special effort,"
Weber said, "but it's possible on Sunday.
A golf course in Paris Illinois closed over the winter, but the bank that took possession of it hopes to auction it off to a new owner who will have it open this spring.
The 119-acre Sycamore Hills Country Club is up for sale in an "absolute auction", which means no minimum bid. Aumann Auctions of Nokomis is handling the auction, along with the Moss Auction Team of Paris. Aumann's Kelly Hogue says First Bank and Trust of Paris approached them about selling the golf course last month --- and put the auction together unusually quickly.
"They wanted to immediately find a new owner to have the golf course ready for spring play," Hogue said. "They took the golf course back on a Monday - signing a deed in lieu --- and called us immediately. We met with them on Wednesday, had a contract on Friday. No one in the auction industry has ever heard of a bank moving that quickly."
Sycamore Hills first opened in 1920 --- the restaurant and banquet hall on the grounds opened about four years ago. Bids are being taken on the two facilities both together and separately. Hogue said the current highest bid for the golf course and restaurant combined is at around $150,000.
Hogue said the facility was opened for public inspection on Thursday, and the turnout was impressive.
"We had hundreds of people," Hogue said. "And we rented golf carts. We had people all over the course, and hundreds of people at the clubhouse, looking over the items."
The final day for bidding on the golf course and restaurant is March 29th. Bids are being taken online only, but Hogue said they will be taking bids at the golf course on March 29th. She said the new owner can take possession immediately, even before the sale is closed. While the bank is hoping that Sycamore Hills reopens for golf, Hogue said it is also zoned for residential use.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber sat at a card table surrounded by reporters Sunday night, getting to know UNLV, the team his Illini will face in the NCAA tournament, as best he could with nothing more than a roster and rundown of wins and losses to work with.
The one thing Weber and the rest of the Illini know for sure, the eighth-seeded Rebels (24-8) are coached by one of the two main men Illini fans sometimes compare Weber to, Lon Kruger.
And if the ninth-seeded Illini (19-13) can get by UNLV Friday in Tulsa, Okla., they might well face the other one, the man Weber replaced, Kansas coach Bill Self.
All of that mattered little Sunday to an Illinois team just relieved to be in the NCAAs for the first time in two years. A year ago, they were stunned by an NCAA snub and trying to muster some enthusiasm for the NIT.
"After what I experienced last year, you never know," said senior Bill Cole, who pointed out that Illinois had to wait for two of the tournament's four regions to be filled before learning it was in. "When the first two regions go by, you're just begging to hear your name called."
The Illini were shocked to be left out of the NCAAs last year, their second tourney miss in three seasons.
And their last trip two years ago, as a No. 5 seed, ended with a first-round upset loss to 12th-seed Western Kentucky, a game that still leaves a bad taste for Illinois' four starting seniors: Cole, Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis.
That 76-72 loss, Davis said Sunday, should hold a lesson for the Illini: Cliche or not, take the tournament one game at a time.
"Back then we saw Western Kentucky and we thought "Aw, we're gonna' win this one,'" he said.
The Illini aren't exactly riding a high as they get ready for UNLV, either.
They lost 60-55 to Michigan in their opener at the Big Ten tournament on Friday after leading by as many as 12 points.
That loss was reminiscent of a string of disappointing and often close losses for Illinois. The Illini opened the season ranked No. 13 and considered a contender for the Big Ten title. They finished in a tie for fourth.
UNLV spent four weeks in the Top 25, but dropped out for good after an up-and-down start in the conference.
The Rebels finished third in the Mountain West and won their last five regular-season games. They knocked off Wisconsin and Kansas State early but lost twice each to the elite of their conference, San Diego State and BYU.
Kruger coached the Illini for four seasons, leaving after the 1999-2000 season to become head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He took over at UNLV in 2004.
Kruger's Illini went to the NCAA tournament three times in four years, won a Big Ten title in 1997-98 and finished in the Top 25 three times.
At UNLV, he's had similar success, coaching four of his seven teams to the NCAAs, including four of the last five.
The Rebels are led by Tre'Von Willis, who averages 13.5 points a game, and Chace Stanback, who averages 13 points a game and six rebounds.
Sunday night, Weber said he knew Kruger fairly well and faced him while an assistant at Purdue.
"He's a very, very good coach and that team will be well coached and play hard," Weber said.
Beyond that, he said he didn't know yet just what to expect beyond the likelihood that a smaller UNLV team was likely to press and trap.
McCamey said the Illini will need to rely on good defense to counter that strategy.
"If you get stops and get out in transition, they can't press you," McCamey said.
Weber declined to look ahead at a potential matchup with Self and the Southwest top-seed Jayhawks. Kansas opens with Boston University, a 16 seed.
Some fans on Internet message boards and elsewhere over the past couple of seasons have compared Weber unfavorably to Self, sometimes saying Weber's best year, the 2005 run to the NCAA final, was built on players Self recruited.
Tisdale said, while he's focused on UNLV, the idea of beating at least one of his coach's predecessors would add a little extra incentive.
"Everybody's going to be talking about Kansas and Illinois and all this stuff, but our focus right now is UNLV," the 7-foot-1 center said. "We're going to do what we can to win one for our coach.
Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has questions.
Will Jereme Richmond's banged-up shoulder hold up? Can he count on slumping guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul for at least tough defense in Friday's game against Michigan? Will Demetri McCamey's solid form of the past few weeks last?
But Weber figures, surely, there's at least one thing he doesn't have to question -- what happens to Illinois (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) after the conference tournament is done.
If Illinois isn't in the NCAA tournament, "I would be dumbfounded, to be honest," Weber said, counting off the tough non-conference opponents the Illini faced this season -- Texas, Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga among them. Illinois beat the last three and took Texas to overtime.
Then again, the Illini were stunned a year ago when they were left out of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Their record then (19-14, 10-8) was even a little better as far as conference play goes.
This season, Weber said, the Illini went through a tougher schedule with last year's snub in mind.
If games against Texas, North Carolina and the rest don't get the Illini into an expanded tourney that now includes 68 teams, "I will totally change my mindset of scheduling philosophy, I promise that," he said.
Illinois has rebounded in recent weeks from a midseason slump that saw them slide out of the Top 25 and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. McCamey's game in particular fell off and losses to Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern piled up like failing grades on the Illini report card.
Since then, the Illini sandwiched wins over the Hoosiers and Iowa around a close road loss to Purdue.
The team that won those games, Weber said, looked a lot more like the one that handled North Carolina than the one that couldn't buy a key basket when it needed one at Indiana.
"We had the puzzle pretty well put together early; it got messed up," Weber said. "Now we're putting those pieces back into the puzzle."
The biggest piece of that puzzle is McCamey..
The senior guard, even with his midseason slump, is Illinois' leading scorer with 15 points a game. And no one on the roster can run the offense the way McCamey can -- his 6.1 assists a game are second in the conference, behind the Wolverines' Darius Morris.
McCamey traces his problems -- and his team's -- to a tentative streak he believes is behind them.
"I think I've just got to be aggressive," he said, adding that the Illini were often slow to get into transition during their slump. "We are a real dangerous team when we get out in transition."
Weber said his other questions still need to be answered.
Richmond, the first player off the bench for Illinois, is playing with pain in his injured shoulder but will have to be a factor for the Illini if they're going to get past Michigan (19-12, 9-9).
Paul and Richmond, Weber said, could be important, too. Paul is one of Illinois' only options for spelling McCamey -- and when he's on, the sophomore guard can be a dangerous shooter. Richardson, meanwhile, will likely have a lot of the defensive responsibility for Morris.
"Morris is kind of the head of the group," Weber said. "A Steve Nash-like player that wheels and deals and sets up everyone else.
Buck O'Neil is regarded today as an ambassador to baseball history, particularly that of the Negro Leagues.
The 16-year veteran with the Kansas City Monarchs went on to become the first black coach in the major leagues, joining the Chicago Cubs organization in the early 60's, but he also was a Negro League manager and big league scout.
A documentary by a Champaign physician sheds new light on the legend's contributions to Chicago's rich baseball history. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talks with Dr. David Fletcher, the man behind plans for a Chicago Baseball Museum, about how Buck O'Neil's contributions to the game are helping that effort.
Page 34 of 39 pages ‹ First < 32 33 34 35 36 > Last ›