Illini Basketball Have a Solid Shot at NCAA Tournament #1 Seed

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In 2017, the Associated Press ranked the top men’s college basketball programs, all-time, and the University of Illinois was #11. This was based on a number of factors, with Illini basketball having previously earned three #1 seeds (1989, 2001, 2005) no doubt contributing to their massively high ranking.

This year, the Illini could get their fourth ever top seed, as winning at Michigan on March 2, and at Ohio State on March 6 should do the trick; provided they avoid any upset, bad losses to inferior competition down the stretch.

The bookies, like those you’ll find at Telecomasia.net will have Illinois favored in most of their remaining games. With a record of 16-5, 12-3 in the Big Ten, a KenPom rating of 7 and a NET of 4, the Illini might be the only team that can catch, and possibly surpass Michigan. The one downside for Illinois is that they have four of the last five on the road, with the only home game coming against very lowly Nebraska.

Illinois also came in No. 5 overall (No. 2 seed) in the NCAA Tournament Committee’s initial ranking of the top 16 teams. Now with seven Quad 1 wins, second most in the NCAA, they were the top seed on the #2 line last weekend. It’s an easy jump to the top seed line for the Illini, as long as they continue doing what they do.

They own a combined 10 victories in Quads 1 and 2, which is tied for fourth nationally.

“Enjoy this moment, don’t let COVID, or not being able to see your family take away from that,” said Illini guard and national player of the year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, after a 30 point road win at Minnesota, a team that entered the contest 13-1 at home.

“These are memories that are going to last for a lifetime.”

Dosunmu had the third triple double in school history just two games prior. It took 115 years of Illini basketball to see the first two, with the most recent two happening this month!

“This is nowhere near where we want to end up at. We want championships,” Dosunmu told the media, via Zoom, after achieving just the fourth triple double in Illini history in Minneapolis.

“We know the sense of urgency we have to play with. In order for us to accomplish our goals, there’s no room for error.”

Illini basketball checked in at No. 5 in this week’s AP rankings; the first time the Illini appeared in the top 5 in February poll since 2005, and just the fourth time in the last 65 seasons (1989, 2001 and 2005). Over the last two Big Ten seasons, this Illini basketball program has the best win percentage (.706) and most league wins (24).

Underwood was asked about having to finish up mostly on the road, and he responded by saying he’s very sick of talking about scheduling and rescheduling this season.

“Bring ’em on,” Underwood said after winning the seventh in a row. “It doesn’t matter who we play. Who’s next? This team is going to have to fight. …I don’t care. Let’s go.”

Up next for this Illini basketball team is a trip to Michigan State on Tuesday. Right now Illinois are winning games, and having fun doing it. Asked about his team having a good time, Underwood said on media call:

“I know this sounds corny, but it’s smiles and you got to have guys that enjoy what they’re doing and enjoy doing it with each other and this group is smiling a lot.”

In terms of the Dosunmu for national POY discussion, Underwood said:

“Damn, I don’t know who’s any better. I know some guys have more publicity.”

He then pointed out all the accomplishments and wins, before adding: “I don’t know who in the hell anyone thinks is any better than him.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, 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,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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