Illinois will not have an easy path through the Big Ten Tournament


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) shoots a three during the game against Michigan State at State Farm Center on Wednesday, March 1.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

With the upset loss against Rutgers now in the past, Illinois is in a tight spot when it comes to postseason implications.

Seemingly off of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Illini will need — at the very least — a very strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, ideally winning the whole thing.

Illinois earned the ninth seed and a first-round bye in the tournament, but will face off with Michigan in the opening round.

With a win there, the Illini would advance to play No. 1 overall seed Purdue, which could be a blessing in disguise for Illinois.

While Illinois lost by 23 in its only other meeting with Purdue this season, a win over the top Big Ten team could catapult the Illini into the NCAA Tournament. Although it’s a long shot, there aren’t too many scenarios left with Illinois finding its way into the Big Dance.

Currently, the Illini are projected as a one or two seed in the NIT Tournament by multiple bracketology outlets.

Hill continues to chase history

While his team has fallen more out of the spotlight when it comes to playoff scenarios, Malcolm Hill has steadily put up the numbers needed to get him into an elite group of Illinois greats.

On Monday, he was named second-team All-Big Ten honors by both the league coaches and media for the second straight season.

With 1,775 points, Hill is currently fourth on the all-time Illinois scoring list, most recently passing Brian Cook on Senior Night against Michigan State. Now Hill has a chance to catch possibly the most famous Illinois player of all time: Dee Brown.

Brown put up 1,812 points in his career and is 37 points ahead of Hill with only one more guaranteed game ahead of the Illini. If Illinois can beat Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, Hill has a very realistic chance of catching Brown this season.

Even without a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, it is assumed Illinois will get the call for the NIT Tournament, giving Hill at least one more game to take a shot at surpassing an all-time great.

Illini are heating up from downtown

Offensive letdowns plagued Illinois throughout the middle of the season, but the team’s three-point shooting has come at the right time.

Tracy Abrams, whose offense was nearly non-existent throughout a lengthy stretch of the season, has hit over 50 percent of his shots from deep over the past three games. Along with Abrams, Jalen Coleman-Lands has revived his three-point percentage with a 12-for-25 stretch dating back to the Iowa matchup on Feb. 18.

Between those two perimeter players, along with Hill who is shooting over 37.5 percent from deep in his last three games, Illinois could put together enough offense to make a splash in the Big Ten Tournament.

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