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The Illinois-Iowa Rivalry Is Back

Wow. That was a fun one.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Hostilities were renewed Sunday night when the Fighting Illini hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes on Senior Day at State Farm Center. Like the initial matchup at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the rematch was exciting, intense and emotional.

After a back-and-forth first half, Illinois went on a huge surge after halftime — and survived a late comeback from Iowa — to earn the 4-seed and a double-bye in this week’s Big Ten Tournament. Here are a few things we can glean from this Illinois win.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Big Ten Freshman of the Year (I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL!) Kofi Cockburn was a monster in the first half, cashing in on a pair of alley-oop dunks in the early stages. He was slowed by foul trouble in the second half, but blocked Luka Garza’s potential game-tying shot as the clock wound down.

Andres Feliz has been the ‘bulldog’ of this Illini squad for the past two years. The senior guard has been lauded for his toughness and has shown a relentlessness late in games. Those traits were on display again Sunday, as Feliz scored all 14 of his points after halftime.

Ayo Dosunmu, after struggling to find his stroke early, got several huge buckets to keep Illinois in front. Dosunmu finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 7 boards — and played all 40 minutes.

If this was Ayo’s final game ever at State Farm Center he gave Illini fans everywhere something to savor.

Rivalry Renewed

Most Illini fans might see Indiana, Purdue or even Northwestern (ew!) as Illinois’ primary rival. However, growing up in the Quad Cities, I’ve always looked at Iowa that way. I saw almost as much Black & Gold as I did Orange & Blue.

Over the past two decades there have been many pretty good Illinois teams and many pretty good Iowa teams, but the two programs have rarely been good at the same time during that stretch. That appears to be changing.

Fran McCaffery and Brad Underwood each seem to have their respective teams built for future success. Every great rivalry also needs a protagonist and antagonist — the Illini mostly come off as very fun and likeable, while the Hawkeyes, well...don’t (here’s looking at you, Connor McCaffery). Also, a series of competitive games can help build a rivalry organically.

This season could be exactly what’s needed to light the flame again.

The Fighting Illini (21-10, 13-7 Big Ten) now head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, where they will likely face these Hawkeyes again on Friday.