One Final Regular Season Hurdle
The Illini basketball team will be inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight to close out what has been a rollercoaster ride through the Big Ten season.
The conference season began with a quick 2-0 uptick with the overtime win over Indiana on New Year's Eve and the "Flyin Illini" reunion game win over Penn State on January 4th.
Then the long January/ early February slide toward the bottom of the conference began , triggered by a lopsided loss to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. What followed was a frustrating series of (8-10 point) losses to Northwestern, Purdue, Ohio State, Indiana (2nd meeting) and Iowa. The Illini had leads in the second half of a good number of those games, but kept having offensive droughts and couldnt finish games.
Then on February 9th, John Groce shook things up, inserting up-and-coming freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup which resulted in a road win at Penn State to stop an 8-game losing streak.
Then after hard-fought losses at Nebraska and at home to Ohio State, the Illini were able to merge their new-look lineup and continued hard work with a really stingy defense that resulted in a string of 3 wins that saw the Illini hold Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan State to less than 50 points.
Michigan took care of the short winning streak with a 16-23 performance from behind the 3 point line last Tuesday night, one of the more dominating shooting performances I have seen in person in a long time.
Now the Illini face a Hawkeye team that is stuggling on defense. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games and gave up a ton of points in the second half in East Lansing on Thursday night. But they are really efficient on offense and play with a lot of confidence at home. Should be a interesting last game of the regular season.
Now...WHO will Illinois play on Thursday at the Big Ten Tournament? Good question!
If Illinois wins tonight....and Minnesota beats Penn State in Minneapolis ...then Ilinois is the #9 seed and would play #8 Indiana in the first game of the tourney on Thursday.
If Illinois wins tonight and Penn State and Michigan win (at home over Indiana) ,Illinois would be the #7 seed and play #10 Penn State on Thursday.
If Illinois wins tonight and Penn State beats Minnesota and Indiana beats Michigan (in Ann Arbor) then Illinois is the #8 seed and play #9 Minnesota
If the Illini lose to Iowa and Minnesota beats PSU then Illinois is the #9 seed and will play #8 Indiana on Thursday morning.
If the Illini lose to Iowa and Penn State wins at Minnesota...then Illinois would be the #11 seed and could either play either #6 seed Ohio State or #6 seed Nebraska...depending on what happens with Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin (Huskers and Badgers play each other) The 6-11 game is the last game of the night on Thursday in Indianapolis.
Got to love March!
Talk to you tonight from Iowa City.