Missed three-pointers, poor defense shut Illinois out of Top 25

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Missed three-pointers, poor defense shut Illinois out of Top 25

Following its third straight loss, a 68-54 defeat at the hands of Northwestern Thursday in Champaign, Illinois was dropped out of the latest AP top 25 rankings released Monday.

Under the leadership of first-year coach John Groce, the Fighting Illini got off to a promising 12-0 start this season, including a Top 10 ranking. Lately, however, they've been matching the play of last year's 17-15 team under Bruce Weber.

The Illini lost five of their last seven games and with No. 2 Michigan and No. 13 Michigan State coming up on the schedule, they risk extending this downward spiral.

The team's biggest issue lately has been a slump from beyond the arc. They've shot 11.9 percent on three pointers in their last three games and their defense has been outscored 226-172.

Related: Illini struggles defined by, but not limited to, three-pointers

Illinois may have a chance to redeem itself Tuesday on the road at Nebraska, which is only 1-5 in conference play.

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others

Torri Stuckey played football at Northwestern and has dedicated his post-playing career to helping others.

Stuckey, who was born in the same Illinois town, Robbins, that Dwyane Wade grew up in, played safety and was a captain for the Wildcats. He graduated in 2004 and is now 34.

As someone who worked his way to a better life, he now tries to help others do the same. He has self-help workshops for teenagers and young adults in urban poverty and wrote a book, Impoverished State of Mind: Thinking Outside da Block, on the subject.

Stuckey, who currently lives in Chicago, was featured as part of CSN's Black History Month series. Watch the video above to see more about Stuckey's efforts.

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

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USA TODAY

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

Dan Muller didn't even have to say anything.

The Illinois State men's basketball coach certainly didn't want his team to lose focus, not with what the game against Bradley meant for the Redbirds' NCAA tournament chances. 

But as Bradley mounted a comeback in the second half of what initially appeared to be a blowout, senior point guard Paris Lee stepped up and delivered all that needed to be said.

"Paris led us like he always does," senior forward Deontae Hawkins said. "The defense was slacking later in the game and Paris called us out and told us, 'We're too old to keep following our old habits.'"

[RELATED —​ MVC tripleheader on CSN Wednesday night, including ISU-Missouri State at 8 p.m.]

The Redbirds wound up cruising to a 64-50 win over Bradley to improve their record in the Missouri Valley Conference to 13-1 (21-5 overall) and Lee took home MVC player of the week honors for his effort.

It was all the more important given the audience at Redbird Arena Saturday night.

At halftime, Illinois State honored the 1998 team, the last Redbirds squad to make it to the NCAA Tournament back when Muller was filling an important role as a player instead of a coach.

Now in his fifth year at the helm of ISU, Muller has improved the Redbirds' record in the MVC in each season. With four conference games left — including Wednesday night's tilt against Missouri State on CSN — Muller has already set a new high mark with 13 conference wins.

And he's been leaning heavily on Lee to do so.

Muller said Lee's impassioned mid-game speech to his teammates has become a common sight this year as Lee — a native of Maywood, Ill. just outside Chicago — has grown more comfortable in a leadership role.

"Paris is pretty locked in," Muller said. "He's been a coach on that floor all year; he has been since he's been here [at ISU]. That's one of the areas he's probably improved the most over the last four — his leadership, his competitive spirit, his comfort level and taking control of the team."

Lee admitted his transformation into a leader was not always a natural fit.

"I feel like I had no other choice but to start maturing because we had a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of younger guys looking up to me," he said. "So I had to. I was kinda forced to grow up. 

"In previous years, I've always had teammates that were able to take the load from me, talk, do everything I should do. But this year, I had no choice but to [step up as a leader]."

Lee is all in — down to his red-tipped dreadlocks that he joked gives him more swag and a pair of sick red Jordans — on getting the Redbirds back to the NCAA Tournament in his final season. He's already set a new career high in assists, thriving as a playmaker/facilitator.

"I'm very hungry, man," Lee said. "I'm gonna continue to play the right way, not try to do too much. Just try to do the right thing to help my team win."