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The New Ray Rice

Player of the Week

Rayvonte Rice, Illinois

Rayvonte RiceRayvonte RiceThe box score at the conclusion of the New Year’s Eve matchup between Illinois and Indiana read as follows: a 39-39 tie at halftime, followed by each team scoring 32 points in the 2nd half. The Illini were just 3 points better than the Hoosiers in overtime, and escaped with an 83-80 victory in Champaign. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, it was visible that every single possession would carry even greater weight than they normally do. Each team knew the ball must get into the hands of their go-to guys. For Illinois, this responsibility of being The Guy has been shared over the last few years.

From the beginning of this season and verified in this game against Indiana, there is absolutely no doubt that Rayvonte Rice is The Guy for the Illini.

Rice continued his dominance offensively for Illinois with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. The redshirt junior bailed out many possessions near the end of the shot clock by putting his head down, dribbling right, and using his big body to initiate contact and draw fouls. Rice went 11-15 from the free throw line, with a couple of those coming in the last minutes of regulation. Illinois failed to make a three-pointer in the first half. On one of the first possession of the 2nd half, Rice buried the Illini’s first three pointer that helped extend the floor and create more driving lanes off ball screens.

With conference play starting, look for opponents to notice two things. First, as already mentioned, Rice really likes getting to the hole with his right hand. Second, it seems like the first read an Illinois player has on offense is to reject the ball screen and try to get to the basket. It’s almost safe to call this strategy a staple of the John Groce offense, but we’ll see if other Big Ten teams start to pick up on the tendency and try to stop it.

Rice is a much better athlete than his build suggests. Many media outlets have harped on how much weight he has lost since his days at Drake, but the extra pounds will help Rayvonte Rice continue to perform at a high level during the grueling conference schedule.

Who’s Hot

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Indeed, Ferrell was a Who’s Hot player one week ago. However, he was The Guy for Indiana in their near upset of Illinois on New Year’s Eve. Big Ten fans know how important it is to steal road wins when your team has a great chance to do so. This game leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Hoosier fans because it was one that was potentially given away (see: 23 turnovers). Let’s get the bad out of the way first: Ferrell did commit 6 turnovers.

Aside from that, Yogi contributed heavily on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he got really hot from the arc. On multiple occasions, the sophomore point guard just fired from deep without a ball screen both early and late in the shot clock. He was in the zone shooting, so much so that Illinois fans held their breath whenever the ball was in Ferrell’s hands, location be damned. Ferrell finished the game going 5-8 from the arc, 7-7 from the free throw line and scored 30 points. Defensively, Ferrell did a great job getting ball pressure on Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate to disrupt Illinois’ offensive flow. His energy helped get Noah Vonleh, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Troy Williams hyped to protect the rim and block shots. As the game wore on, Indiana’s confidence rose that they could get a big conference victory on the road. This basketball game was one where as a basketball fan, you’re disappointed that one team had to lose because each team played very hard with lots of passion. Credit Ferrell for representing Indiana well in this game.

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

Finally! This is the LaQuinton Ross that Buckeye fans expected coming into this season. There’s no doubt that Aaron Crafts busts his butt and makes the plays that you see on SportsCenter. Ross is the guy that can create massive mismatches and provide easy offensive opportunities for Ohio State. Too often, this team gets stagnant on offense and can have trouble creating its own shot. It happens most when Shannon Scott runs the point and Thad Matta shifts Craft to the 2 guard. Again, Ross must become a more integral part of Ohio State’s offense. There still are too many questions about his motor, especially on defense. It’s no secret he has a tremendous skill set. Scoring 25 points, going 9-11 from the free throw line and grabbing 12 rebounds in a win at Purdue is a good start for Ross in conference play.

Who’s Not

Tai Webster, Nebraska

The freshman woes are currently setting in for the New Zealand native. Webster went 3-13 for 9 total points and 6 turnovers in Nebraska’s 2 losses at Cincinnati and at Iowa. Webster has been in a dry spell spanning his last 5 games, but he played an average of 34 minutes per game in Nebraska’s last 2 losses. Scouting reports will pick up on Webster’s inability to do anything offensively, and it’s nearly impossible to win conference games playing 4-on-5 during offense. I applaud Tim Miles for trying to get Webster’s feet wet, and Nebraska is quite thin in the backcourt. But trying to find the hot hand on offense between Deverell Biggs, Nathan Hawkins, and Webster may be necessary. This Nebraska team can and will be more competitive as year’s past. They defend well and are adequate enough on offense to compete for some Big Ten wins. Their performance against an excellent Iowa team on the road is impressive. It’s imperative that Webster contributes for the Cornhuskers to get wins in conference.

Top 5 Names in the Big Ten

One of the first babies to be born in 2014 was named So’Unique Miracle. Wow.

What are the best names in the Big Ten?

1. Okey Ukah, Iowa: There’s great balance between the first name and the last name, both in the number of letters and the amount of syllables. This is a name that easily rolls off the tongue because of the great “k” sounds early in each name.

2. Basil Smotherman, Purdue: Just smother some basil all over that dinner, man. The food references that relate to this name are endless. Hopefully he’s also a good defender.

3. Oto Osenieks, Minnesota: A unique first name tied with the “Double O” strategy. I’m actually not sure how to properly pronounce his last name (guessing “Oh-Say-Neeks”). Ignorance on my part, but it makes the name that much more intriguing.

4. JerShon Cobb, Northwestern: It’s a fantastic first name even before the second capitalized letter. Cobb’s got some flash on the court to back up the great combination of these 11 letters.

5. Maverick Morgan, Illinois: His name includes the best initials known to man. Shortening the first name to “Mav” has a nice ring to it as well.