#23 Illinois Fighting Illini vs #18 Iowa Hawkeyes Game Preview

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After the Illinois Fighting Illini won convincingly at Northwestern on February 27, head coach Brad Underwood was asked about his team’s fans completely taking over an opposing gymnasium. Overall, the question related to the turnaround of the program, and how the third year coach has brought that which was once down back up again.

“How awesome was that? It makes you smile when you’re a part of it,” Underwood said. “That’s an unbelievable feeling to know how proud our fans are of us. You walk around with your head held high. I’m damn proud to be part of it. I get to live my dream. For fans to come see these guys, we sure as heck don’t take it for granted.”

brad underwood

The win guaranteed the Illini an at large NCAA Tournament berth, because it meant they would suffer no more bad losses, the kinds of defeats that would damage their resume. The win also cinched their first above .500 record in conference play since 2010.

In other words, once they took care of business at their home away from home, they achieved “lock” status for the big dance, and thus ended their long seven year March Madness drought. And yes, the loss at Ohio  State was very disappointing tonight, but overall the season has far exceeded expectations. One more regular season tilt remains, senior night against Iowa.

#18 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-8) vs #23 Illinois Fighting Illini (20-9, 12-7) FYIs

Tip: 6:00 pm CT, Sunday March 8th, State Farm Center – Champaign, IL

TV: BTN

Odds: coming soon

ESPN Matchup Predictor: Illinois win 61.5%, Iowa win 38.5%

Radio segment/Preview: KGYM ESPN Radio Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, the Todd Brommelkamp Show talking Iowa, Illini, Big Ten hoops in general and much much more at this link (29-48 minute mark).

Iowa Hawkeyes kirk ferentz

#18 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-8) Preview

Iowa has lost twice to Purdue, by an aggregate score of -45. Illinois has beaten Purdue twice, by an aggregate score of +46. Yet Iowa beat Illinois by seven in the first meeting this season. So if A>B and B>C, then A @#%%%%&@#@#!@!@ C.

That’s life in the Big Ten this season, where next to nothing ever makes sense.

Player to watch: Junior Center Luka Garza

He’s a lot more than the favorite to win Big Ten MVP. He’s a Naismith award finalist (he’ll be on the Wooden list when it’s announced too), a sure fire first team All-American and the Hawkeyes’ all time single season leading scorer.

Garza also ranks first nationally with 12 20-point/10-rebound performances and field goals made (275), second in 20-point games (24), third in points per 40 minutes played (29.9), fifth in scoring (23.7), ninth in 30-point games (5), 17th in double-doubles (15) and offensive rebounds per game (3.7), and 33rd in rebounding (9.9).

#23 Illinois Fighting Illini (20-10, 12-7)

For Illinois, Ayo Dosunmu is the closer and alpha dog. Freshman Kofi Cockburn has exceeded expectations this season, but we still haven’t seen the best of him yet. Who’s the team’s third best player though? It’s very debatable.

X factor: Alan Griffin

The sophomore guard scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting, making 6-of-8 3-pointers a week ago last night at Northwestern.

“It just feels like you’re not just throwing it up there, but it feels like every shot you throw up is going in,” Griffin said of being in the zone that night.

“I want to feel like that every game if I can get going, my teammates helped me get going today. It’s a good feeling.”

“You can’t get too high in the middle of the game,” he said. “I celebrated, but in my mind I was still focused and ready to get stops and head back on the other end. In the moment, I’m just in the moment.”

His Dad, Adrian Griffin, played in the NBA from 1999-2008. The current Toronto Raptors lead assistant coach played for the Bulls, Celtics, Mavericks, Rockets and Sonics.

He was also CBA MVP with the Connecticut Pride in 1999.

Prediction: Illinois Fighting Illini 77, Iowa Hawkeyes 71

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link

 

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