Up Next: Big Ten Tournament
Fighting Illini basketball prepares for long conference tournament weekend.
Peyton Wesner – Producer and Men’s Basketball Reporter
March 11, 2020
It’s been a while since the Fighting Illini have encountered a ‘TBD’ opponent at the Big Ten Tournament.
In fact, the last time was 2009 when the conference had eleven schools and Mike Davis was on the team. Davis may be long gone, but this Illinois group is just as talented as its predecessors.
The No. 21 Fighting Illini have enjoyed the fruits of a double-bye this week. The team was off on Monday while yesterday focused on individual drills. Today, the team scrimmaged with simulated game situations.
“It’s all about us. There’s been no game prep,” said head coach Brad Underwood on Wednesday. “It’s almost like a breath of fresh air hit you when you get out of the grind of league play.”
The Big Ten Tournament features six Top 25 teams, two more than any other conference. Illinois could play a ranked team in any game, including its quarterfinal on Friday.
“We’re looking forward to Indianapolis. It can be one of those elite tournaments where literally anyone can win it,” said Underwood. “Emotionally, you have to keep it simplistic and every game is just that.
A potential quarterfinal opponent is No. 25 Iowa, who is the fifth seed in the tournament. Led by Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes will be looking for retribution following Sunday’s 78-76 loss in Champaign.
If the case, Illinois freshman Kofi Cockburn would be matched up once more with Garza. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year had the game-winning block on Iowa’s star three days ago.
Cockburn will need to bring his best for Underwood’s squad to streak through the tournament. Big Ten postseason honorees Jalen Smith of Maryland or Xavier Tillman of Michigan State exist as potential one-on-one matchups for Cockburn later this week.
“Every team in the Big Ten has a really good big man. And, every night is a different challenge,” said Cockburn. “It’s mental growth as much as it’s physical growth.”
Ayo Dosunmu has been extremely impressive since returning on February 18. The sophomore is averaging 19.7 points per game, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists over his last six games.
“I’m feeling great. I put a lot of work, a lot of sweat into my game,” said Dosunmu of this week. “Selection Sunday is coming up, so it would be a great impression.”
Illinois will travel to Indianapolis later today. The team’s first game will be early Friday afternoon (approximately 1:30 p.m.) against either Iowa, Minnesota or Northwestern.