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Weekend Roundtable: What's The Deal With Rayvonte Rice?

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Rayvonte Rice is struggling lately. Is that due to his injury? Is that due to tougher competition? We discuss.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Rayvonte Rice walked into his first eligible Illinois season and kicked the door down. He was a 16-year-old in a 12-and-under league. He was a bigger, better bully.

Practice reports all through last season hinted at his ability with quotes like, "He's a man among boys," and through 10 weeks this season, everyone nodded in agreement. Now--maybe not. Rayvonte is struggling, mightily. Illinois' leading scorer didn't manage a single point on Thursday against Ohio St. And frankly, he looked outmatched.

Don't forget, though, Rayvonte strained his adductor against Northwestern on Jan. 12--not even two weeks ago. Although the team downplays the injury, strained adductors typically have a one month recovery time. Is his poor play of late due to injury and decreased mobility? Or is it the tougher Big Ten competition?

The Champaign Room writers discuss.

Matt Zidow

"Rayvonte Rice, the leading scorer on the Illini and the fourth leading scorer in the B1G, took the floor against Ohio St. and didn't score a point. That's not a typo. Ray took eight shots and made none without getting to the charity stripe. Expect the "overrated" chant to be heard from every opposing student section from here on out.

"Here's an interesting stat: Ray hasn't been to the foul line since the Purdue loss. Zero free throw attempts against MSU. Zero free throw attempts against OSU. Free throws were a major part of his scoring, and he's not drawing the same contact that he once was. Listen, Ray will be fine. Let him get healthy and confident again. The Ohio State embarrassment aside, you don't average 17.4 points through 19 games by luck. Ray's our best player."

Mark Primiano

"I agree with Matt. It would be one thing if Ray only shined against scrub teams.

"That's not what happened. Fourteen points against Mizzou. Twenty-five points against UNLV. Twenty-four points against Georgia Tech. Sixteen points against Oregon. These teams aren't exactly the Michigan States of their conferences, but they aren't teams anyone would have been shocked to see make the tournament before the season started.

"What people don't seem to realize about strains is just how serious of an injury they are. "Strain" is a somewhat innocuous word, so let me redefine strain into layman's terms: a muscle strain IS a muscle tear. While Ray's injury is likely only a grade I or II strain (out of a possible IV), a torn muscle isn't going to heal if you keep using it as intensely as he is. He has a torn groin muscle and is still trying to play basketball on it. The team needs to do the right thing and just bench him for a week or two so that it heals properly."

Jack Cassidy

"I watched that game Thursday, and I thought the same thing, Mark. The kid needed to be benched. He shouldn't have been out there in crunch time. He probably shouldn't have been out there at all.

"The underlying doubt with Rayvonte stems from his MVC roots, obviously. Our experience with those players (Sam Maniscalco and now Jon Ekey) says that they'll shine in non-conference and struggle in the grind of the Big Ten. Rayvonte's size and scoring ability seemed to grant him some exemption from that argument. He doesn't fit the anti-MVC player mold at all. And even now, I want to solely place the blame on the injury, not the player.

"But he scored zero points last night. Zero. He was agile enough to play decent defense and notch a beautiful block on Aaron Craft.--he wasn't completely immobile. But he scored zero points, in large part due to poor decision making.

"Rayvonte Rice is our best player, and he's good enough to stand out in the Big Ten. But is he as good as his 2013 non-conference? Until he's 100 percent, I won't make a definitive statement."

Primiano

"I think it's fair to be concerned because c'mon now, zero points? But yeah, until he's actually healthy it's difficult to say if he's having a hard time adjusting to a better conference or if he's just not right."

Matt Silich

"One more thing to consider here is how a strain like that hurts Ray much more than it would a more conservative player. Ray constantly tries to drive past his man and get to the basket. Without his regular quickness and strength, we've seen a really limited player. If Rayvonte were a spot-up, knock-down shooter, this injury wouldn't hamper him nearly as much. Unfortunately, Ray only shoots about 32 percent from three, so he cannot take a step back and rely on his marksmanship to keep putting up his regular numbers.

"This also relates back to what Matt Z. was explaining earlier: Ray has really struggled to get to the free throw line, likely because he's having trouble penetrating the defense effectively on one leg. I definitely agree that it may be best for this team to sit Ray for a week or two, at least until his leg is better than it is now. Asking him to trot out there and play 30+ minutes a night is hurting the team at this point, if anything."

Thomas Bruch

"So much of this is based off what we've been allowed to know about the situation. He has a strained muscle, according to John Groce. But, apparently, doctors have cleared him to play and Ray has his own desire to play and Groce liked his health enough to play him 36 minutes against Purdue just three days after the initial injury.

"Rice, a horse that Illinois rode to more than a few victories in the non-conference, hardly reached that minute echelon even then. If he's hurt and noticeably hurt, why would the collective decision of the coaching staff be to play him 34+ minutes in every game since? These weren't ho-hum teams either; Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State are three of the most physical teams in the conference. It's a lot to ask any player to play that much against those types of teams, especially ones who may or may not be harboring a muscle injury.

"Since the injury, about half of Ray's field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. That wouldn't be a productive Ray even if healthy. His forte is dribble driving and finishing at the rim or getting fouled. Along with the point Matt Z. made about the free throws, this marks an entirely different Ray we've come to know. Either two things have happened: he has self-doubt in his driving ability because of his injury or because Big Ten defenses have really clamped down on him. It's really hard to say."

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Chime into the discussion in the comment section. How much of Rayvonte's struggles are due to increased competition? How much is due to a lingering adductor injury?