By Grace Barrios
The NCAA named the Big Ten Conference the top men’s college basketball conference this year. Teams like Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State all play in this prestigious conference. On March 12, the Big Ten tournament started with 14 competing teams in Indianapolis at the Lucas Oil Stadium.
Illinois, led by Coach Brad Underwood since 2017, has proven to be more than ready to play ball in this tournament. They have been ranked in the top 10 nationwide for almost the entirety of their season, and when they arrived at Indiana, they were third in the country.
Some of their star players include Ayo Dosumu, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Fraizer and Andre Curbelo. On March 17th, Dosumu was named USA Today Player of the Year and is rising on the NBA top picks list for the draft. He is the only NCAA player over the last 11 seasons to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists and has been on several first team All-American accolades.
Right from the get go, Illinois started off strong in the tournament beating Purdue in a blowout. The next game was against Iowa, who houses one of the best players in the league, Luka Garza. He has an All-American first team distinction and was named Player of the Year in the Big 10. However, he and his team were defeated by Illinois in a nine-point loss.
Illinois became a finalist after defeating Ohio State on Sunday, March 14th. The nail-biting game ending in overtime finished with a score of 91-88, with Illinois taking home the Big Ten Conference Championship. They “clutched” their number one seed spot in March Madness and are continuing the fight for NCAA National Champions.
Andre Curbelo, freshman at Illinois, gave a statement about this unprecedented year, saying, “Being the second best team in the country feels great, when I first committed to the University of Illinois I wasn’t expecting anything of what we’ve done so far but we’ve been working for 11 months now as a team and Covid even though it made it hard and a little more difficult it definitely has a positive side to it which is that all of our classes are online meaning more time for basketball and more time to spend as a team and getting better.”
Many teams were grateful to play, and the fact that they were given a season shows the dedication of both the teams and the league. Illinois has worked hard to prove to many that they are a force to be reckoned with.
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