Last week, Illinois Men’s Tennis did what many, including myself, expected. I remarked in my Big Ten Tournament preview that I expected the Illini to roll to the Big Ten Championship where a tall task in No. 1 Ohio State would await them. I optimistically hoped for a huge upset, but a 4-1 loss would be the final result. Now, Head Coach Brad Dancer has his squad ready to host Western Michigan, California, and Drake in the Illini’s home regional.
Against Purdue on Friday, Illinois took a 4-2 victory to advance to the Big Ten semis, led by Alex Brown, Zeke Clark, Vuk Budic, and Gui Gomes. The 7-5, 6-3 victory for Gomes was his first match clincher of the season, while Illinois won its 17th match up this year.
Saturday featured much of the same. In its matches with both Purdue and Penn State, Illinois dropped the doubles point while crushing it on the singles courts on victories by Aleks Kovacevic, Zeke Clark, Siphosothando Montis and Alex Brown.
The Big Ten Championship, in honesty, was much closer than the 4-1 score. Montsi took Kyle Seelig, ranked No. 53 nationally, to a 7-6(6), 6-2 nail biter while Alex Brown downed No. 22 John McNally. No. 9 Aleks Kovacevic had the chance to defeat No. 1 JJ Wolf, yet the match up went unfinished.
What is lost here is the job Brad Dancer has done as Head Coach of the Illini. In his 14 seasons as HC, the Illini have been to the Big Ten Championship game 11 times. That is a Kansas Basketball level of dominance. Now, the question will be how far can the Illini advance in the NCAA Tournament?
The most likely opponent the Illini would see after the home regional would be No. 2 Texas, a team they are all too familiar with. At the ITA Indoor Championship, Texas squeaked by Illinois 4-3 after Leonardo Telles took down Zeke Clark to close out the match. Illinois would be set to match up well again with Texas if given the chance.
A major key point for the Illini this week and in future rounds will be their doubles play, something they have struggled with of late. While dropping six straight points in doubles play in the Big Ten Tournament, there is reason for concern as the NCAA Tournament drawn near. If Dancer is able to get more out of his doubles partners, Illinois could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
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