Four takeaways from No. 4 Illinois’ win over No. 2 Michigan


Photo Courtesy of UIUC Men's Basketball Twitter

Trent Frazier celebrates in the game against Michigan on Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Illini beat the Wolverines 76-53.

By Brandon SImberg, Staff Writer

When Ayo Dosunmu was announced as inactive just hours prior to No. 4 Illinois’ game at No. 2 Michigan, it seemed like Illinois would suffer a defeat. After all, the Wolverines had just one loss on the season, powering through the Big Ten.

But, in one of the more surprising results of the season, the Illini dominated the Wolverines, winning 76-53. Michigan led for just 3:34 of play. Here are my takeaway from Tuesday night’s action.

Illinois’ defense came to play

In my preview, I wrote about Michigan’s ball-screen offense and how defending those actions would be the key to success. Illinois did just that. Cockburn was excellent at containing Mike Smith when switched onto him. On a lot of Michigan’s side pick-and-rolls, the Illini constantly “iced” them, not allowing the ball-handler to use it, throwing the Wolverines off.

As a result, Michigan struggled. Hunter Dickinson shot a season-low 12% from the floor. Franz Wagner was somehow worse, going 1-9. Mike Smith, who entered the contest leading the Big Ten in assists, didn’t register a single dime, as the Illini forced him to become a scorer. Eli Brooks was the only Wolverine in double-figures. Michigan’s 17-49 (34%) shooting clip was their worst of the season.

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Illinois wanted it more

Michigan came into the game as a strong rebounding team with their long front-court, but Illinois outrebounded them, 42-26. A lot of that is expected when you shoot 34%, but Illinois also beat them on the offensive glass, snagging 12 offensive rebounds. They used those to convert 22 second-chance points. Oftentimes, rebounding is a hustle and effort thing, and in Ann Arbor, it was Brad Underwood’s squad who won the hustle game.

Andre Curbelo proved he can do more than pass

Earlier in Big Ten play, Curbelo was carving up defenses with his passing. Naturally, teams adjusted, taking away those passing lanes. Curbelo struggled at first, but with Dosunmu out of the lineup, he has found his scoring niche, going for double-figures in all three games.

Curbelo used his savvy dribbling and patience to find the right angles and attack the rim. He scored 17 points on 8-14 shooting, not attempting a single 3-pointer in just 19 minutes of action. With Miller and Curbelo stepping up, the future looks bright for Illinois. If Curbelo can become a somewhat passable shooter this offseason, his scoring should improve dramatically.

Illinois controls their own destiny for a one-seed

Illinois went into Tuesday as the fourth projected one-seed by multiple bracketologists. While a loss without their star wasn’t going to kill them, it would have made Saturday’s game at Ohio State significantly more important. With it being unlikely that the committee would place a Big Ten seed at No. 1 and No. 2 in the same region, jumping from a two to a one-seed could be the difference between Elite Eight and Final Four, as they would avoid Gonzaga or Baylor until then.

But, with this win over the No. 2 team in the AP Poll, the Illini have some breathing room. A win at Ohio State, or making it to Sunday of the Big Ten tournament, would likely seal their fate as a No. 1 seed. If the Iowa Hawkeyes or Buckeyes fall early in Indianapolis, that would improve their chances as well. The other team to keep an eye on is Alabama, who could conceivably win the SEC tournament and finish 24-6. Regardless, Illinois controls their own destiny now for a one seed, which would be a massive accomplishment.


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