Men’s wheelchair basketball sweeps at Illinois Crossover, readies for national tourney

After sweeping the competition, the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team’s road to nationals is one step closer. Having not lost a collegiate game this season, the Illini will most likely receive the No. 1 seed for the national tournament in Marshall, Minn., next month.

“It’s a real reward for how the guys have played this season,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “We beat (defending champion) Wisconsin-Whitewater four times this season, it gets us one step closer to our ultimate goal.”

Playing in its final regular-season tournament, Illinois went 4-0 against top competitors No. 3 Texas-Arlington, No. 6 Missouri and No. 7 Southwest Minnesota State. Not only did the Illini win, but they won by large margins, beating every team by 22 or more points.

“We played really well this weekend, and we were able to do the things we wanted to work on,” junior Tom Smurr said. “It’s great playing at home in front of our friends and the Illini Pride section.”

Illinois has worked hard on improving its passing and half-court offense. The Illini had only 20 turnovers in four games, and Frogley was pleased with the improvement in the team’s passing. He was especially happy with how unselfish the Illini were throughout the tournament.

“We were really unselfish, which I think makes every guy play harder because you know your team is looking for you to be successful on the court,” Frogley said.

Even though the team had a winning weekend, there are still plenty of places it can improve before the big dance in March. Junior Brian Bell is excited for the potential No. 1 seed, but he thinks the team needs to keep working hard and communicating like it did at the Illinois Crossover.

One specific aspect Frogley also wants the team to work on is playing its best for a full 40 minutes. Although Illinois won by large gaps, Frogley would still like the team to work hard for the whole game. He was worried about how the Illini allowed Texas-Arlington back into the game in the second half. The Illini will have to play 40 minutes, especially when the competition is tougher in the postseason, Frogley said.

With about a month to go before nationals, the team will have to stay focused on the main goal. One way to stay on track is to keep in mind it has not won anything yet.

“We want our revenge, and that keeps us motivated,” Smurr said. “We have a second-place trophy in our office, and it doesn’t look good.”

The next challenge before the Illini head to nationals is competing against the Canadian national team in four games in early March. The Illini have competed against the No. 2 ranked team in the world before the national championship in previous years and love the competition, Bell said.

Playing the Canadian team will be the ultimate test to see if the Illini are ready to compete against the best collegiate teams. They will face Canada four times in one weekend, and Canada will provide them with the toughest challenge they’ve had yet.

“Playing Canada comes at the greatest time in our season — right before the tournament,” Frogley said. “No other college team will get that level of competition, and we know (the Canadians) are going to test our weaknesses, which will really test our execution.”