CHAMPAIGN—A day after Illinois fired coach John Groce and three days after its NCAA tournament hopes vanished, the Illini accepted a bid to play in the National Invitation Tournament as a No. 2 seed.The Illini (18-14) will play No. 7 seed Valparaiso in the first round Tuesday at the State Farm Center. This marks the third time in the last four years Illinois has played in the NIT, going 1-2 in that span.Illinois had worked its way back into NCAA tournament consideration with a four-game winning streak late in the season, but a loss at Rutgers in the regular-season finale and a 20-point loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament dashed any hopes.Athletic director Josh Whitman said he decided Thursday to dismiss Groce, who had been in Champaign for five seasons, and Whitman announced the decision Saturday. Assistant coach Jamall Walker was promoted to interim head coach.Vaparaiso (24-8, 14-4) tied for first in the Horizon League in the regular season but lost potential NBA draft pick Alec Peters late in the season to a stress fracture in his right leg.The winner will advance to play No. 3 seed Utah or No. 6 Boise State.Illinois State was considered an NCAA tournament bubble team, but the Redbirds were left out despite a strong RPI and a win against Wichita State. They earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT and will face No. 8 UC Irvine on Wednesday at Redbird Arena in Normal.The other No. 1 seeds were California, Iowa and Syracuse.In an twist, Syracuse will face UNC Greensboro. During the ACC tournament in New York, Orange coach Jim Boeheim ripped that city as a former host site, saying, “There’s no value to playing in Greensboro. None.”
EVANSTON—Northwestern earned its first NCAA Tournament berth Sunday, picked as the 8-seed in the West Region. When the Wildcats heard their name called on the CBS Sports Selection Show, fans and players went absolutely insane with excitement at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats will face No. 9 seed Vanderbilt on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Here are the facts, and boy do they bear repeating: Northwestern’s last winning Big Ten record came in 1968. Before 2015-16, Northwestern had never won 20 games in a regular season; it had never broken the 20-win threshold, period. The first NCAA tournament was held in 1939 in Evanston, Illinois. The NCAA tournament has included at least 64 teams for 32 years. Northwestern was the only power conference team in college basketball history — the only one — never to make the NCAA tournament.It is almost impossible to fathom the epochal end these 2016-17 Wildcats represent. Compare them to the Cubs if you like, but then imagine if the Cubs went 100 years without once making the playoffs. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s how winning 21 games in the regular season, finishing 10-8 in the Big Ten, and sliding into the back half of a 68-team NCAA tournament field makes you legendary. And don’t get it twisted: Whatever happens later this week, Chris Collins and his players are already legends.
BOSTON—This was a disgrace as thge Bulls litterly stunk out the joint at TG Garden! Worst outing of a miserable season! Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points as it circled TD Garden, leading the Boston Celtics over the Bulls 100-80 Sunday and sending the the visitors to their season-high fifth straight loss.The Celtics rushed to a 13-0 lead, shutting out the Bulls until Dwyane Wade’s jumper nearly six minutes into the game.Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 29.2 points per game, played only 24 minutes and sat the entire final quarter. He had some fun with the fans in the closing minutes of the blowout, taking part with teammate Jae Crowder in the crowd’s cheer.Avery Bradley had 17 points and Marcus Smart and Al Horford both added 12, and no Boston starter played more than 32 minutes.Robin Lopez and Denzel Valentine paced the Bulls with 13 points apiece. Wade scored only eight points and Jimmy Butler had five.
Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin scored on the Blackhawks first two shots, Corey Crawford made 42 saves and the Hawks defeated Minnesota 4-2 on Sunday to pull within a point of the Central Division-leading Wild.Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marian Hossa also scored for the Blackhawks, who ended a two-game slide and won for the 13th time in their last 16. Kane’s goal was his team-leading 30th and 10th in eight games.Eric Staal scored his 22nd goal and Mikael Granlund got his 23rd for Minnesota, which has dropped three of four. Minnesota outshot the Blackhawks 44-22 for a season high allowed by the Blackhawks.Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk, looking for his career-high 37th win, was relieved by Darcy Kuemper less than five minutes into the game after allowing those early goals.Dubnyk replaced Kuemper for the third period of the Wild’s previous game, a 7-4 win at Florida on Friday night.The Blackhawks finished 3-1 against Minnesota in the regular season. The Blackhawks and Wild have met in the postseason three times – in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – and the Hawks won all three series and twice went on to win the Stanley Cup.Set up by Panarin, Kane opened the scoring just 51 seconds in from the edge of the right circle on a shot that deflected off defenseman Marco Scandella.Panarin made it 2-0 at 4:38 on a rising one-timer from the slot that sailed over Dubnyk’s blocker. That prompted coach Bruce Boudreau to summon Kuemper.Crawford was sharp in the second period, stopping all 20 shots he faced. Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk scored at 5:28 during a delayed penalty to increase the Hawks lead to 3-1.Minnesota’s Ryan White pulled down Jordin Tootoo along the left boards. Play continued and Marcus Kruger stepped in and fed the loose puck to van Riemsdyk, who had streaked to the edge of the crease.
NOTES—Minnesota C Martin Hanzal missed the game with an illness. Wild C Jordan Schroeder moved back in the lineup after being scratched in four straight. … Blackhawks veteran defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were back in the lineup and paired together after getting a night off in a 4-2 loss at Detroit on Friday….The game started at 11:30 a.m. and was played before a season-high United Center crowd of 22,147. … Tomas Jurco was a healthy scratch for the first time since being acquired from Detroit on Feb. 24. … The Blackhawks signed 22-year-old F John Hayden, 22, one of their top prospects after he concluded his senior year at Yale…..The Blackhawks are at Montreal on Tuesday to start a three-game Canadian trip that also takes them to Ottawa and Toronto.
WASHINGTON—Going up against Wisconsin’s defense is a challenge under almost any circumstance. When the opposition is playing its third game in three days, it’s a mismatch.And so it was Saturday, when the Badgers harassed and hounded weary Northwestern in a 76-48 victory that thrust No. 24 Wisconsin into the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the third time in five years.Nigel Hayes scored 18 points and Ethan Happ added 16 for the second-seeded Badgers. They never trailed in their third straight victory — second in the tournament — following a run of five losses in six games.Wisconsin (25-8) will vie for its fourth Big Ten title Sunday against No. 8 seed Michigan, which will be playing its fourth game in four days. It will be the seventh championship game appearance for the Badgers, trailing only the eight by Ohio State.Northwestern (23-11) was playing for the second time in less than 24 hours, and it showed. Coming off wins over Rutgers and No. 3 seed Maryland, the Wildcats missed 20 of 27 shots in the first half, had only one assist and trailed 38-21.Their poor shooting could be attributed in part to the Wisconsin defense, which allowed a Big Ten-low 61.5 points per game. It was the 18th time in 33 games the Badgers yielded 60 points or fewer.Scottie Lindsey scored 16 points for Northwestern, which went 18 for 52 (35 percent) from the floor, was outrebounded 37-27 and didn’t get its second assist until the 8-minute mark of the second half.
“They guarded us pretty well,” said guard Bryant McIntosh, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, who went 4 for 12 and finished with eight points. “They took a lot of our stuff away, pushed us out on the floor.”
NU brought none of the momentum from the Maryland game into this one, missing its first seven shots and falling behind 15-3 with seven minutes elapsed.It was 19-13 before Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter popped a pair of 3-pointers to start a 15-6 spurt that widened the gap to 15 points.After what the Wildcats had already gone through this week, they simply didn’t have the strength to make a comeback.
“It’s about energy. It’s about effort. We didn’t have enough of either,” McIntosh said. “Didn’t even deserve to be on the floor with them at some points.”
The second half was much like the first. After Northwestern closed to 48-33, D’Mitrik Trice and Vitto Brown each nailed a pair of 3-pointers in a 16-4 run that made it 64-37 with 7:44 remaining.A complete performance like this would seem to indicate that Wisconsin is peaking at just the right time.
“We finally came together, both offensively and defensively, and we’re playing better team defense as a whole,” starting guard Bronson Koenig said.
Wisconsin was the far fresher team, which is why the teams compete so hard during the regular season to receive the double-bye that comes with a top-four finish.
“Their legs were a little sore, their feet a little slower tonight,” Showalter said about the Wildcats.
The Badgers hope to see a ragged Michigan team, too. The Wolverines beat Illinois, No. 13 Purdue and Minnesota after their plane skidded off the runway earlier in the week and delayed their arrival in D.C…..Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in attendance for the third time in three days, though she had little to cheer about. Her son, seldom-used sophomore Charlie Hall, plays for Northwestern but didn’t get in the game….This loss takes nothing away from what the Wildcats have accomplished this season, setting a school record for wins and beating 25th-ranked Maryland to earn a berth in the Big Ten semifinals….The Badgers have clearly righted themselves after that horrid stretch at the end of the regular season in which lost to Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa in succession….Northwestern, the school that hosted the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 but still hasn’t played in one should put an end to that dubious distinction.
WASHINGTON—Making itself right at home on a court that was anything but neutral, Northwestern roared into the semifinal round of the Big Ten Tournament with a 72-64 upset of No. 25 Maryland on Friday night, disappointing an enthusiastic – and biased – crowd.Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law each scored 17 points for the Wildcats (23-10), who took control with a 20-2 run in the second half that all but silenced an arena that earlier produced the loudest cheers of the first Big Ten Tournament held in the nation’s capital.Having already defeated Rutgers and No. 3 seed Maryland, Northwestern on Saturday will face second-seed Wisconsin, a 70-60 winner over Indiana.Though this was technically considered to be a neutral court, Maryland (24-8) enjoyed many of the benefits of playing at home following a double bye to start the tournament.No matter what, the Cats have sewed up their first ever Men’s NCAA hoops birth.
WASHINGTON—Vic Law led the way as Northwestern went on a run of 31 consecutive points in the first half of a 83-61 rout of Rutgers on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.Law scored 10 of his 16 points during that 31-0 run that put the game out of reach and pushed sixth-seeded NU into the quarterfinals where it will face third-seeded and 25th-ranked Maryland. The NCAA Tournament-bound Wildcats (22-10) can only improve their seeding from here after taking care of business against the 14th-seeded Scarlet Knights (15-18).Scottie Lindsey also had 16 points for Northwestern. Nigel Johnson led Rutgers with 21.Northwestern faces third-seeded Maryland in the late game Friday night. Maryland is the reason this tournament is in Washington and will be playing 15 miles from its College Park campus.
WASHINGTON—The toughest part for some of Michigan’s basketball players was simply getting back on an airplane.Getting back out on court – wearing yellow practice jerseys in place of their missing game uniforms – was easy by comparison.Flying into town on the Detroit Pistons’ team jet only a few hours before tipoff because Michigan’s original plane slid off a runway and slammed through a fence during an aborted takeoff a day earlier, the Wolverines raced to an early double-digit lead Thursday and beat Illinois 75-55 to reach the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
”It was something our kids will always remember, but I want them to always remember how they responded,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. ”Because this is really important. This is the way life goes sometimes, and you’ve got to respond positively to whatever comes your way. And, boy, did they.”
Derrick Walton scored 19 points, and Zak Irvin added 18 for No. 8 seed Michigan (21-11), which led Illinois by 20 points in the first half and now meets regular-season conference champion Purdue.
”Maybe some people, in the back of their mind, thought we might come out flat or come out a little tired,” Michigan’s Duncan Robinson said. ”But I think we were just aggressive.”
The airplane carrying Michigan’s coaching staff, players, cheerleaders and others – ”Children, families,” Irvin said – aborted its takeoff Wednesday.
”To see the fear in some (passengers’) eyes,” sophomore forward Moe Wagner said, ”I realized, `Oh, my God, this is real.”’
No one was injured, according to Michigan spokesman Kurt Svoboda.Beilein, players and others helped folks get off the plane – senior forward Mark Donnal opened one emergency exit door – as the smell of gas fumes filled the air outside.During a meeting attended by players and counselors Wednesday night, Beilein offered the option of forfeiting the game. Some players wondered aloud about driving.Eventually, the decision was made to play and to fly.The journey began all over again Thursday, with players waking around 6 a.m., grabbing breakfast at a hotel buffet, boarding the plane lent by their neighboring NBA team, and landing at 8:45 a.m.
”I was legitimately scared today,” Wagner said, ”starting and landing.”
Michigan arrived at the arena at about 10:35 a.m., and they were playing basketball less than two hours after that (tipoff was delayed about 20 minutes.The Wolverines were forced to wear simple, practice tank tops – no players’ names on the backs – against ninth-seeded Illinois (18-14) because their proper uniforms, along with everyone’s suitcases, were trapped on the plane.Once play began, though, Michigan never trailed.
”Felt like we were back in our sanctuary,” Walton said. ”We’ve been through a lot emotionally, mentally.”
After the game, Beilein’s voice choked while he spoke about seeing his daughter and son in the arena at game’s end. (His wife, who was on the plane Wednesday, decided to stay home.Didn’t matter that much to him that his team won.Or that he earned his school-record 210th basketball coaching victory.
”I never feared for my life at any time,” he said, ”but there’s a lot of circumstances that could’ve been very different in those few minutes.”
Illinois is likely looking at an NIT bid.
Jonathan Bernier was terrific. The rest of the Anaheim Ducks were good enough.Bernier made 43 saves for his 100th NHL win, and Anaheim cooled off the Blackhawks with a 1-0 victory on Thursday.Corey Perry scored in the second as the Ducks ended the Blackhawks’ seven-game winning streak despite being outshot 43-26 on the night. Corey Crawford blocked 25 shots as the Blackhawks lost for only the second time in their last 14.Bernier’s second shutout this season and 14th of his career helped the Ducks move ahead of idle Edmonton for second place in the Pacific Division. Bernier made his sixth straight start with John Gibson sidelined by a lower-body injury.
”These are the type of games as a goalie, on the road in this type of building against a good team, you need to show up and bring your `A’ game,” Bernier said. ”I felt really good tonight.”
Perry stopped a 10-game scoring drought with his 12th goal at 17:44. Perry hadn’t connected since scoring twice on Feb. 9 at Buffalo.
”We weathered the storm in the first period and our goalie stood tall,” Perry said. ”Got to give him a lot of credit.Sometimes you need him, and we needed him tonight.”
The Blackhawks outscored their opponents 53-29 in their previous 13 games, and they held the Ducks without a shot for more than 18 minutes stretching from the first period until early in the second.
”We were flatter than something on a plate – fill in the blank,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. ”We regrouped. It wasn’t pretty.”
The Blaxkhawks wasted a chance to overtake Minnesota for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference. The Wild lost 4-1 at Tampa Bay.Despite ample energy, the Blackhawks just couldn’t finish against Bernier.
”I thought we did a lot of things that were pretty sharp out there with our passing and puck movement,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. ”If we could keep it simpler in some instances and just get pucks at the net with traffic, maybe we would have had a bounce.”
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson returned after missing four games with an upper-body injury. He was paired with Swedish countryman Johnny Oduya, who played in his first game since being reacquired on Feb. 28 from Dallas. He had been resting an ankle injury.Hjalmarsson and Oduya often played together on the Hawks 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup teams.The Blackhawks outshot the Ducks 19-2 in a chippy first. Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf fought Richard Panik late in the period, and the Ducks captain drew an extra minor for instigating and a misconduct on the altercation. Getzlaf entered with just 26 penalty minutes.The Blackhawks kept dominating into the second, but Bernier stepped up every time he was challenged. His best stops included a point-blank right pad save on Jordin Tootoo in the opening minute, a glove save on Patrick Kane’s backhander with 5:05 left in the period and a block of Artem Anisimov’s quick shot from the side of the net about a minute later.Perry scored on the Ducks’ 14th shot, just moments after Marian Hossa’s drive dribbled off the post to Bernier’s left. He beat Crawford on the stick side as he cut across the slot.Aided by solid defensive support, Bernier preserved the lead in the third.Bernier had to come up with a sprawling pad save in Artemi Panarin and close-in stop on Jonathan Toews with Crawford on the bench for an extra attacker in the final 1:40.
NOTES—Bernier matched his career high for most saves in a shutout, when he blanked Dallas while with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 23, 2014. With Gibson out, Bernier was backed up by Jhonas Enroth. … Jeff Glass backed up Crawford for a third game. Scott Darling is recovering from an injury. … Anaheim’s Logan Shaw played in his 100th NHL game. … With Hjalmarsson and Oduya in the lineup, Ds Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival were scratched. … Ducks F and former Hawk Antoine Vermette served the ninth game of a 10-game suspension for slashing linesman Shandor Alphonso. He’s eligible to return when Anaheim hosts Washington on Sunday….The Blackhawks are Detroit on Friday in their final visit to the Joe Louis Arena.
NEW YORK—Trevon Bluiett scored all 17 of his points in the second half and Xavier kept its hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid alive with a 75-64 victory over DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament on Wednesday night.The win was the seventh-seeded Musketeers’ second in five days over DePaul, and it set up a second-round game on Thursday against No. 18 Butler, the second seed.JP Macura had 13 points and six assists and Quentin Goodin added 13 points for Xavier (20-12). Despite a fourth straight 20-win season, the Musketeers probably need at least one more to get into the Selection Sunday mix.Billy Garrett Jr. had 16 points to lead No. 10 seeded DePaul (9-23), losers of 11 of their last 12. Eli Cain added 15 and Tre’Darius McCallum had 12 points and 11 rebounds.Xavier, which was playing in the opening round for the first time in its four seasons in the Big East, led by as many as 14 points and was never threatened.