Baylor and the Illini scheduled to play Friday in round of 16 at NCAA tournament.
Coach Brad Dancer’s nationally ranked UI men’s tennis team is finished with finals in the classroom but will face a major test Friday (11 a.m. start) on the court. Illinois (25-7) takes on Baylor (25-5) at the University of Georgia in a round of 16 match. A look at the Illini’s postseason path, courtesy of executive sports editor Fred Kroner:
When the schools met March 16 at a neutral site in California, Baylor — located in Waco, Texas — won 4-0. That meeting only consisted of singles, and the Illini’s No. 1 singles player, Jared Hiltzik, was injured and did not play. In recent weeks, Hiltzik (who is ranked eighth nationally) has been the hottest UI player, winning his last 11 matches. For the season, his 31-9 mark includes a 12-4 record against nationally ranked opponents. Neither the Illini nor the Bears lost a home match this season.
Up and down
When the collegiate tennis season started, the Illini were ranked 22nd nationally. By March 4, they hit their peak at No. 6. Entering the third round, the Illini are No. 12 in the polls. Among the surviving 16 teams, Illinois and Ohio State are the only remaining Big Ten participants. Baylor is ranked fifth in the latest NCAA poll. The Illini and the Bears are NCAA tournament veterans. Illinois has been in the postseason field 19 consecutive years. Baylor’s tourney streak is at 17 years.
Past meets future
On the bracket, it’s Illinois vs. Baylor’s Big 12 champions. There’s another way to view it. The school that hosted the 2013 NCAA tennis championships (Illinois) plays the school that will host the 2015 NCAA tennis finals (Baylor). A year ago, Baylor’s season ended on the UI courts but not against the Illini. In the round of 16, the Bears lost 4-1 to Southern California. Friday’s winner will return to action at 11 a.m. Sunday in the quarterfinals, either against No. 4 Virginia or No. 13 Notre Dame.
Piling up the wins
Hiltzik isn’t the only 30-match winner in the UI singles lineup. Farris Gosea is 36-9 overall and 10-2 against nationally ranked foes. Tim Kopinski is 33-10 and 4-4 against nationally ranked opponents. All three have been chosen to compete in the individual portion of the NCAA tournament (starting Wednesday) after the team segment ends Tuesday. Hiltzik and Gosea are in the singles draw. Kopinski and his partner, Ross Guignon, were invited to play in doubles. They are 27-11 together and seeded in the 5-8 grouping.