Life in the NCAA bubble: How Illinois spends its down time in Indianapolis


Photo Courtesy of Kelsea Ansfield / Illinois Athletics

Trent Frazier looks to pass the ball during the game against Drexel on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Illini have been resting during their stay in the NCAA bubble to get ready for some big March Madness games coming up.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

Immediately after winning the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis, the Illini didn’t have much time to celebrate together.

Illinois had to prepare for the NCAA tournament in the Indy bubble, which started with a 24-hour isolation period in their hotel. Once cleared, the Illini were allowed to hang out with each other. Senior guard Trent Frazier admitted that day wasn’t easy. Some guys played video games, while some caught up on Netflix shows; Brad Underwood is doing a rewatch of “Peaky Blinders.” After a stretch of three games in three days, Underwood said the break was much needed.

“Our guys slept and rested their bodies,” Underwood said. “We did nothing. Watched film, got caught up on our next opponent … Other than that it’s been great.”

The Illini have done a terrific job of following protocols all season, so this time in the hotel doesn’t vary much from their lives in Champaign. One difference is the food they are being served by the NCAA. While some have complained about the selection, the only thing missing from their regular food routine is an omelet station, but other than that Underwood said his group has no complaints.

Even with the team being super close, they still need to find ways to pass the time throughout the day. Some teams have taken to making TikToks to kill the time; Iowa played a team wiffle ball scrimmage, while Wisconsin was seen throwing a football around.

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Illinois’ players aren’t too active on TikTok, but they have their activities. Spikeball, a game that was wildly popular amongst the team over the summer, has found life in the hotel. The games get competitive and Frazier claims he and redshirt junior forward Jacob Grandison are the best. Underwood’s group also got a kick out of Kofi Cockburn’s soccer skills being put on display in a team meeting.

After the isolation period, Illinois was able to get back to actual basketball activities as well. The hotel set up a court in a convention center where participating teams rotate time slots. Strength coach Adam Fletcher brought weights for the team, which they set up in the team meeting room. On Wednesday, they spent 90 minutes getting shots up at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, where they played on Friday.

This season, and this NCAA tournament experience in particular, are nothing like the norm, but this close-knit Illinois crew takes it all in stride. After not making the tournament for eight seasons and having last season’s tournament canceled, they are happy to be in the bubble and are making the most of it.

“These moments are special; everyone’s taking it all in,” Frazier said. “It’s an exciting time to be able to play in March Madness and be able to play basketball. Our season got taken away from us last year, so to be where we at today and know we have a game on Friday, that’s exciting news for us.”


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