Did Illinois just lock up a No. 1 seed with its best player out for the last three games? The No. 4-ranked Illini (19-6, 15-4 Big Ten) just made one heck of a case by racking up three straight wins, including back-to-back top-25 road wins at No. 25 Wisconsin and No. 2 Michigan, with Ayo Dosunmu going through concussion protocol.
Tuesday’s shockingly dominant 76-53 win in Ann Arbor thrust them onto the No. 1 seed line of the Bracket Matrix with the majority of bracket experts now projecting Illinois as the fourth No. 1 overall seed behind Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan.
“I’m pretty illiterate when it comes to what’s going on in the world of college basketball,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said Tuesday night. “I look at our stuff and our league. But I would be challenged to find a better win in college basketball this year [than at Michigan], a better road win anyway. In all the analytics, they’re up there. I think it’s got to make a pretty solid statement. A lot of people have us somewhere in that 1 or 2 line anyway. Beating a team that’s 2 in the country and up there in almost every analytic has got to be a pretty strong statement. Then to do that without college basketball’s best player, pretty big statement.”
Illinois enters its regular-season finale at No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday a heavy favorite to earn a No. 1 seed for just the fourth time in program history since the NCAA start seeding the tournament in 1979 and the first time since 2005, when Illinois was the national runner-up. Illinois woke up Wednesday morning with the most Quad 1 wins in the country (nine), one more than Oklahoma State and Michigan, and again are top-four in the NET rankings.
FTNBets.com’s Brad Evans has Illinois No. 4 on his Bracket Big Board and wrote after the Illini’s win on Tuesday: “Ass-kicking statement win against Michigan. Should sew up No. 1 seed.”
“I can’t tell you the feeling I’m feeling right now. It’s special and we’re not done,” Illinois senior guard Trent Frazier said on Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to come in every day and finish out this season strong and prepare for the next step.”
Leading up to Selection Sunday, Illini Inquirer will provide frequent updates on the Illini’s NCAA Tournament résumé and projection.
NCAA Tournament résumé
NET ranking: 4
Quad 1 record: 9-6
Quad 2 record: 5-0
Quad 3 record: 3-0
Quad 4 record: 2-0
BracketMatrix.com projection for NCAA seed: No. 1 seed
High seed projection: No. 1 (most)
Low seed projection: No. 5 (KPI)
- No. 1 seed: 27.7 percent
- No. 2 seed: 51.2 percent
- No. 3 seed: 15.1 percent
- No. 4 seed: 4.2 percent
- No. 5 seed: 1.2 percent
- No. 6 seed: 0.4 percent
- No. 7 seed or lower: 0.2 percent
Saturday, March 6: at Ohio State (8 NET, Quad 1)
“I know we all get obsessed with, ‘Is this team going to be on the one line? Is this team going to be on the 2 line?’ All of that doesn’t matter because once Selection Sunday happens and the pairings come out, all of that gets thrown out the window,” Evans told Illini Inquirer last week. “Nobody cares about one seed. Nobody cares about two seed. All people care about is, ‘What is my path? What is my road? Who could we face that could be a matchup problem for Team X in getting to the Final Four?’ That’s all that matters. For Illini nation, just cool your jets. Don’t worry about where Illinois lands on the one line. Stay focused more on what the draw is going to be. Then we can panic.
“As long as Illinois is bringing its B or B-plus game round in and round out, I don’t really think they’re going to have any major speed bumps until the second weekend of the tournament. Hell, they might not have any major speed bumps, depending on how the cards fall, until the Final Four.
“I think Illini fans out there, you take the good with the bad. You got to hope they play consistent basketball over 40 minutes. Keep the faith. This team is damn good. And they have the ingredients, when firing on all cylinders, to win the entire NCAA Tournament.”