All posts by Peyton Wesner

Peyton Wesner is a University of Illinois journalism major who has religiously watched MMA since July of 2013. He has written about the sport since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @pcwesner.

RECAP: #4 UCF advances to NIT semifinals, beats #2 Illinois, 68-58

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.
ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF guard A.J. Davis dreamed about playing at Madison Square Garden. 

Now, he can check it off his bucket list.

The Knights advanced to the National Invitation Tournament semi-finals, fighting off Illinois, 68-58. The Fighting Illini led for only one minute and 53 seconds during a game in which they shot an anemic 30.6 percent.

“Every game we are just trying to not give up threes and layups (and) make guys shoot tough twos,” UCF center Tacko Fall said. “We work on it every day.”

The Matt Williams Show began at 7:00 p.m. sharp. The senior sharpshooter from Orlando swished 3 three-pointers to charge UCF ahead, 11-3. Continue reading RECAP: #4 UCF advances to NIT semifinals, beats #2 Illinois, 68-58

Wesner: Power conference bias, strength of schedule will send Wichita State to AAC

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Tic. Tock. Tic. Tock. Tic. Tock.

Do you remember waiting on a decision after your first job interview?

Sitting in your living room with a racing mind and constantly checking for a missed call or email, you begin to second guess whether your first impression was strong and your answers crisp.

The Missouri Valley Conference is now engaged in a waiting game with mid-major powerhouse Wichita State.

Will they stay, or will they go?

Reported by The Wichita Eagle’s Paul Suellentrop Tuesday, the Shockers’ move to the American Athletic Conference is “almost inevitable.” Continue reading Wesner: Power conference bias, strength of schedule will send Wichita State to AAC

Syracuse sophomore Tyler Lydon to enter 2017 NBA Draft

Per Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports, Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon will sign with an agent and declare for June’s NBA Draft. The sophomore forward stuffed the stat-sheet with 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steal and 1.4 blocks per game this season.

Lydon, a 2016-17 All-ACC honorable mention, made an immediate impact off the bench as a freshman. The 6’9″ New York native posted four double-doubles and averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds during the Orange’s 2016 Final Four run. This past season, he one upped last year’s totals with nine double-doubles. Continue reading Syracuse sophomore Tyler Lydon to enter 2017 NBA Draft

Redbird Nation excited for possible matchup with Illinois

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Fifty-seven miles — that is the distance between State Farm Center and Redbird Arena. Despite the proximity, the Illinois State Redbirds and Illinois Fighting Illini have played just eight times in 97 years.

A ninth meeting may be in the works for Wednesday.

If #1 Illinois State defeats #4 UCF and #2 Illinois is victorious against #6 Boise State, the in-state rivals will play for a trip to the 2017 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) semifinals. It would be the first time the two have battled in the postseason since the 1980 NIT.

Because the matchup is one win away, Bloomington-Normal is buzzing over the possibility to knock off the heralded program.

“They are obviously having a down year, and we are having an up year,” said ISU class of 1999 graduate David DiMarzio. “We should beat them.”

The first meeting between ISU and U-of-I was in Normal, Illinois, on December 20, 1920. The Fighting Illini were the victors, winning 31-21. The initial contest was the LAST time the Redbirds hosted the most distinguished college basketball team in the state.

Ironically, the imbalance in scheduling led DiMarzio to alter his allegiance.

“I grew up as an Illini fan because I didn’t know any better. Then I came to ISU, and I found out that they won’t play us here (at Redbird Arena),” DiMarzio said. “That’s the big reason that I stopped liking them and cheering for them.”

Since 1920, Illinois has won seven straight contests against Illinois State. No game has been a full-fledged blowout, however. The Birds have kept within ten points in four of the eight contests. Moreover, the 2011-2012 squad took the Fighting Illini into deep waters at the Cancun Challenge before being edged 63-59.

Yet, this Redbirds’ team is more talented than five years ago. Although Illinois State had Nic Moore, Jackie Carmichael and Jon Ekey, their record (21-14) pales in comparison to the final campaign of seniors Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins and Tony Wills (28-6). 

With this in mind, Bloomington, Illinois, native Zachary Holland understands the significance of advancing to the semi-finals of a postseason tournament.

“That would be really big,” Holland said. “I don’t think that has ever happened.”

Holland is right: The Redbirds have not won a game, in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT, to move to the national semifinals.

Colleen Sherwood, who graduated from Illinois State last year, can describe the atmosphere for the Fighting Illini’s trip to Normal in one word.

“It would be crazy!” Sherwood said.

Whether the possible matchup leads to regular season contests is unknown. 2004 was the last time Illinois scheduled Illinois State for a non-conference bout.

Current ISU student Jacob Veazey has hope a victory could spark the beginning of a consistent rivalry.

“If we beat them in the tournament, I think it is a reason to schedule games yearly,” said Veazey.

School pride fills the community of Bloomington-Normal before tonight’s second round matchup versus UCF. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.

— P. Wesner

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Wesner: Xavier OWNS Orlando

Photo courtesy of AP.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando, Florida: known for Mickey Mouse, Universal Studios and Xavier basketball?

Orlando is more than a vacation spot for the Musketeers. It’s a place of great memories and dominant victories.  

Since November 2015, the #11 Xavier Musketeers are 8-0 with two early season tournament championships and a clinched trip to the Sweet Sixteen. In the history of neutral site games in Orange County (Florida), the program is 11-2 — good for the most wins by any Division I program.

Yet, when Xavier wins, they win BIG.

In the eleven victories, the Big East representative from Cincinnati, Ohio, triumphs by an average margin of 13.4 points. Moreover, they leave NO doubt in championship games or contests that have a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. Xavier’s smallest margin of victory is 8 points with such a stratification.

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports.

Xavier junior Trevon Bluiett, who scored 29 points this evening versus #3 Florida State, loves playing in “City Beautiful.” The 6’6″ Indianapolis, Indiana, product has found a second home in Orlando and is averaging 18.5 points per game dating back to the 2015 Advocare Invitational. 

Whether the weather, amusement parks or meeting Mickey Mouse inspires Xavier is unknown. Nevertheless, there is no question Orlando is a place that holds great significance to the current group of Musketeers.

With tonight’s win, Xavier has advanced to their eighth Sweet Sixteen. They will play the winner of #2 Arizona and #7 St. Mary’s in San Jose, California, on March 23. 

— P. Wesner

Photo created by Peyton Wesner.

Wesner: Illinois’ Underwood is Groce 2.0

Photo courtesy of Sporting News.
Nine days and one NIT win later, and Illinois Fighting Illini basketball has a new head coach.

No, neither Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall nor Dayton’s Archie Miller is heading to Champaign. Instead, Oklahoma State head coach Brad Underwood is upgrading his destination for the second time in two years.

If you are an Illini fan, buckle up because this road is set to get bumpy. 

Why?

Brad Underwood is John Groce 2.0.

“We were looking for a proven winner who would build upon our proud tradition while developing an unmistakable identity for Illinois Basketball,” said Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman in a statement. “Brad’s teams play a fast, aggressive style and show unyielding toughness.

“Off the court, Brad builds strong, personal relationships with his student-athletes. His winning combination of strong Midwest values and tenacious work ethic are a perfect fit for our community and the Illini Nation.”

Granted, unlike Groce, Underwood has experience coaching at a major university. The 53-year old finished the 2016-2017 season with a 20-13 record and a 10th seeded Cowboys squad that pushed Michigan to the brink yesterday. Though, that is the ONLY difference.

Underwood is an unproven leader who lived off a one-man team for three years. Think about it, without Thomas Walkup, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks would have been nothing more than a mediocre team in the Southland Conference. Sounds familiar doesn’t? No? Groce did the same exact thing with D.J. Cooper (complemented by a young Nick Kellogg) during three years at Ohio University.

The comparison of NCAA Tournament upsets is impeccable. Underwood defeated 3rd seeded West Virginia in 2016, two years prior to dropping 5th seed VCU. Groce, in the same sense, claimed a 4th seed in Michigan, propelling the Bobcats to the Sweet Sixteen in 2012, which ALSO occurred two years before an upset of 3rd seeded Georgetown. 

There’s no question an 89-14 mark at the Division I level is impressive — after all, it doesn’t happen overnight. Once one see the strength of schedule; however, the accomplishment becomes a different story. 

In three seasons, Underwood’s Lumberjacks had an average strength of schedule of -5.47. -5.47! 

Sure, he took advantage of Oklahoma State’s power conference status with non-conference matchups against Maryland and Wichita State this season. But, you must remember Oklahoma State basketball is heralded higher than Illinois; they have made the NCAA Tournament four of the last five years. Thus, do not expect non-conference showdowns with Wichita State and other powerhouse programs next season or even two years down the road. If you do, that’s unrealistic.

So, where does Illinois go from here?

The common philosophy is to allow a new head coach several years to adjust and build a great recruiting class. Ironically, John Groce has given Underwood the keys to a new Cadillac with incoming 4-star freshmen Jeremiah Tilmon and Da’Monte Williams, not to mention Florida grown Trent Frazier.

Is the future bright for Illinois? 

Absolutely.

Will it come as soon as next season? 

Don’t get your hopes up. Underwood couldn’t produce an over .500 conference record in the Big 12.

The Big Ten may not be any easier. 

— P. Wesner