Reigning Big Ten Tournament champions, No. 1-seed Illinois men’s basketball opens postseason play against No. 9 Indiana


Cameron Krasucki

Andre Curbelo, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, RJ Melendez, and Da’Monte Williams huddle together during the Big Ten Championship against Iowa on Sunday. The Illini will be up against Indiana for the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.

By Jackson Janes, Outgoing Sports Editor

After an emotional 74-72 win over Iowa that secured a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship, top-seeded Illinois (22-8, 15-5) opens its 2022 Big Ten Tournament campaign with a meeting with 9-seed Indiana (19-12, 9-11).

The Illini are the reigning champions and have a target on their back, something head coach Brad Underwood is embracing.

“I think we’ve gotten our program to a point where we understand that we’re kind of the hunted, and we’ve had to deal with that,” Underwood said. “We’ve spent a lot of the year in first or close to it. We saw a lot of people’s best games. I think there’s no pressure.” 

These teams met just once in the regular season, a 74-57 Illini win in Bloomington on Feb. 5. Despite winning by double-digits, Illinois trailed by two heading into halftime before outsourcing Indiana, 40-21, in the second half.

The Hoosiers are led by Second-Team All-Big Ten and All-Defensive Team selection and junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who averages a team-best 17.6 points per game. He scored 24 points in Indiana’s win over Michigan in the second round of the tournament, a game in which the Hoosiers closed the game on a 31-9 run after trailing by as many as 17 with 12 minutes to play.

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Senior guard Xavier Johnson has emerged as a scoring threat over the final half of conference play, scoring at least 12 points in 10 of his team’s last 13 games. He also scored 17 points in the Hoosiers’ win over the Wolverines on Thursday.

The pair struggled against Illinois in their February meeting, scoring a combined 18 points on 7-20 shooting from the field while also recording five turnovers.

Though Underwood did not know which team his squad would play when talking with the media on Wednesday, he knows that postseason play is all about momentum, an especially important factor for a Hoosiers team needing a win to feel good about its chances of earning an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2016.

“Postseason play is about getting hot,” Underwood said. “It’s about playing with an edge. It’s about playing hard, and you’re gonna have to do that no matter who you play.”

The two sides will meet at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. The winner will play either No. 4 Rutgers or No. 5 Iowa in the semifinals at 12 p.m. on Saturday, with the winner of that game playing in the Big Ten tournament title game on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

“I think it’s just us going out and playing extremely hard, and being extremely focused and understanding that, you know, we’ve got nobody to blame if we don’t play hard,” Underwood said.


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