Stephen Cohn: Illinois loses to MSU in Big Ten Tournament final
I think Illinois gets Minnesota in the quarterfinals (this will likely be an awful pick by Wednesday night), which lets them cruise into the semifinals. Then they get the Badgers, and being a Wisconsin guy now, I'm not all too impressed. It’s a really good team, but the Illini have the star power.
So then it’s the final, and it’s Michigan State. Illinois can certainly go to the Sweet 16 or further in the tournament based on guys like Ayo having excellent games, but Sparty is still Sparty, and they’re always going to be kryptonite one way or another.
Let’s just hope people are allowed to be at the games.
Michael Berns: Illinois loses to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament final
I don’t like them — like them in a Hey Arnold! sense — but I just have a feeling Maryland is the best Big Ten team suited for both winning the Big Ten Tournament and advancing to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. Illinois matches up nicely against potential opponents Iowa, Michigan/Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Illini are 5-2 in games against those four teams this season, and one of those two losses was at Rutgers without Ayo Dosunmu.
The Terps’ mini-losing skid (at Ohio State, home vs. Michigan State in primetime, at Rutgers in ten days) seems to have woken Mark Turgeon’s squad up. The Illini do well and beat Iowa and Wisconsin in the quarterfinals and semifinals; I just legitimately fear the turtle.
Kyle Huisinga: Illinois beats Michigan State, wins Big Ten Tournament
I’m going to have fun with this. In a season where Illinois basketball has purged a lot of recency demons, beating Michigan State for the BTT title would be the icing on top of the turnaround cake. Iowa will be a difficult task (assuming they get there), but I see a similar dogfight with the Illini eking by with another heart-stopping finish. Then, a nail biter to knock off number one seed Wisconsin, with Ayo burying a three late to seal the victory.
Finally, we take out some years of frustration against one of the best Big Ten teams the last decade, negating a late game surge from the Spartans, with Kofi Cockburn daggering two crucial free throws, and DaMonte Williams securing his place as a defensive great and the win with a block on Cassius Winston as the buzzer sounds.
Sounds impossible? Not with this team.
Drew Pastorek: Illinois loses to Wisconsin in semifinals
I’m a huge fan of Stranger Things, and I feel like we’ve been trapped in the Upside Down all season. Wisconsin had played the part of the Demogorgon for nearly a decade before the Illini finally bested the Badgers in Madison. In what felt like an alternate dimension, Wisconsin was scuffling and Illinois was surging. Greg Gard, who was on the hot seat about a month ago, helped guide the Badgers to a conference championship after being 6-6 in early February. Wisconsin is inexplicably the hottest team in the Big Ten.
I have no empirical evidence or statistical research to support this pick — the Illini have as good a chance as any other team to win this entire tournament. I’m just not sure Illinois has enough telekinetic powers, Eggo waffles, or Ayo Dosunmu mid-range jumpers to take Wiscy down again.
Matt Rejc: Illinois loses to Wisconsin in semifinals
Defeating a motivated Iowa Hawkeyes team will be no small feat in the quarterfinals, but I like both Northwestern and Minnesota to put up enough of a fight to tire Iowa out. Though the Hawkeyes will start off strong, the extra rest that the Illini earned in their victory on Sunday will pay off with another win. But as well as the Illini have played in the second half of this season, Wisconsin has defied all odds and is the just about the last team that anyone in the country would want to face in postseason play. The Badgers keep Ayo Dosunmu at bay and contain Kofi Cockburn enough to sneak into the finals against Maryland.