One month in Indy: Illinois manages last four weeks of season

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Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois men’s basketball team pack the team’s coach bus before leaving for Indianapolis on March 11. The Illini are packing and preparing to be gone for a month and make a deep NCAA tournament run.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

Packing for a trip can be a laborious process for any person, checking over and over again to make sure all important items for a few days, or even a week-long trip, are there.

For the No. 3 Illinois men’s basketball team, they are packing for at least a few weeks.

When Illinois departs for Indianapolis Thursday, the team is planning on staying much longer than they did last season.

The Illini got to Indianapolis in March of 2020 for the Big Ten Tournament, but they had just one practice before the tournament was canceled, and they bussed back from Indianapolis. With the Big Ten Tournament, barring a completely unexpected event, being played out this season, Illinois hopes to be playing until Sunday.

But even when the tournament ends, Illinois will be staying in Indianapolis. For the first time ever, the NCAA tournament will be held solely in the state of Indiana. To limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure, Illinois is staying in Indiana until they lose in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m packing like I’m gonna be there for a month,” Dosunmu said.

For this trip with an unknown end date, Illinois is bringing everything they need. Players are bringing the essentials: clothes, sneakers and video game consoles. Managers are in charge of transporting the game day essentials — game shoes, jerseys, water bottles. Underwood said the team will also be bringing things like portable basketball hoops, treadmills, weights and bikes to stay loose, as well as card tables.

While the team will be stuck in their hotel, it’s not much different from what the team has been doing all year. Through apartment hangouts, the team has become close. They will be doing more of the same, including video games and card games. Kofi Cockburn brought his Nintendo Switch. Ayo Dosunmu brought his Xbox Series X. He favors NBA 2K21 in his spare time, and nobody on the team can hang with him.

“Nobody can beat me,” Dosunmu said. “I’m different.”

Another adjustment will be the game times. For the most part, Illinois’ games have been spread into just two or three per week. But to win the Big Ten Tournament, they need to win games on three straight days. The NCAA tournament will require winning two games in three days for three straight weekends.

It’s a stark change from the regular season, but the Illini have played on a short schedule before. They won on three straight days to start the season. In late February, they played three games in six days. The Illini are prepared for the quick turnarounds.

“Mentally, we gotta be ready to go,” freshman guard Andre Curbelo said. “When it comes to playing, we’re gonna go on the court; we’re gonna give it our all. If we’re not mentally ready, we can be beat. That’s the only way we can be beat. When we come in mentally ready to go…ain’t nobody gonna beat us.”

All season long, the Illini have done a fantastic job at keeping themselves safe. They haven’t seen their families since they arrived on campus. They have been in a bubble with themselves, amassing zero positive tests during the season. That could very well be over in just two weeks, but the Illini don’t want that. They want to stay in Indy until Monday, April 5.

@BrandonSimberg

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