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TCR Staff Predictions: 2021 Big Ten Tournament

We’re high on the Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: Illinois beats Michigan in Big Ten Tournament championship

This just feels right. March is all about storylines, and this is the best storyline of all, and something tells me it will happen.

Illinois seems far too determined to drop a game to a Rutgers or an Iowa, and Michigan I’m sure really wants that rematch against the Illini. Bad news though for the Wolverines? Illinois is up to the challenge. Masked Ayo goes for 25 and 10, and Illinois wins by 15, hopefully sparking a humungous celebration in the face of Juwan and Co.

Michael Berns: Illinois beats Michigan State in Big Ten Championship

Even though the Illini have a worse seed than Michigan, the bracket falls in Illinois’ favor. We’d much rather play Indiana or Rutgers in our first game than be Michigan and face Maryland or Michigan State — teams the Illini lost to. Sparty is as inconsistent as it gets, but I think they beat Michigan on Saturday in Indy, and then Sparty takes care of Ohio State (not Purdue) in the semis.

This sets up nicely. Illinois craves a rematch versus Michigan State — the chumps that physically beat Ayo and forced him to miss a few games. Concussions are always scary, and to see troves of MSU fans praise that kind of behavior from Sissoko is disgusting. When the Illini play them in the final, it’s revenge. It’s good versus evil. This tournament does not mean as much as a regular season Big Ten Championship, but raising a banner in the SFC is something to celebrate. ILL.

Raul Rodriguez: Illinois beats Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship

The Buckeyes will beat Purdue and then exact revenge on a beat up Michigan team in the semifinals. This will set up a rubber match against the Illini who will cruise against Indiana in the quarters and win a close one against Iowa in the semifinals. The Illini win the rubber match against OSU. Ayo will be the Big Ten Tournament MVP and the Illini will go into the NCAA Tournament as the overall #3 seed (behind Gonzaga and Baylor) and a #1 seed in their region.

Jeff Horwitz: Illinois beats Purdue in the Big Ten Championship

If Purdue can use their extra day of rest to overcome OSU in the quarterfinals, they’re primed to upset Michigan in the semis. First, Eli Brooks’ status is unclear for the Big Ten Tournament after injuring his ankle against MSU. While Michigan could overcome his absence, he’s a valuable cog, shooting 36% on 3PTs and 94% on FTs. Also, after Illinois made Michigan look bad on their homecourt, they lost at MSU, even without any cheap shots on their best player.

Purdue simply has more riding on the tournament than Michigan does. Michigan will likely be a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens, and if Purdue wins the tournament, they could potentially nudge their way up to a No. 2 seed. Trevion Williams (15.2 PPG and 8.8 RPG) is already a star in the Big Ten, and Purdue landed two players — Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey — on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. As Jon Rothstein says, the only things in life that are certain are death, taxes, and Matt Painter. Please don’t sue me, Rothstein!

Quentin Wetzel: Illinois beats Michigan in the Big Ten Championship

Man, it feels good to be a homer when you can actually back it up. Advanced metrics like KenPom and BPI think Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan are all about equal at the top of the conference, and those metrics don’t know that Ayo was injured for three games. With that knowledge alone, it’s easy to argue that Illinois is the favorite. Metrics aside, the narrative around Illinois basketball is that the Big Ten denying them a share of the conference title has lit a fire under the team, and Illinois was already playing its best basketball anyway. It’s also easy to hear that and argue that Illinois is the favorite.

Now, the Big Ten is incredibly talented this year, and winning three games in a row against great competition is a tall order. But someone has to do it, and the team that just won three games in a row on the road against ranked teams without its best player for two of them seems as capable as any of cutting down the nets on Sunday. They should pack a pair of scissors.

Matt Rejc: Illinois beats Michigan in the Big Ten Championship

It just has to end this way, right? I mean sure, Ohio State or Michigan State could end up in the finals, or maybe Iowa catches Illinois off-guard. But none of that feels right. The Illini are going to be playing with passion and are highly motivated to prove themselves, so I feel fairly confident that they reach the finals. It’s no secret that Michigan has struggled down the stretch, losing to Michigan State and getting dismantled by the Illini just a few days ago. But just has to be the Wolverines and the Illini in the finals.

The conference has a lot of great teams this year, and I wouldn’t be shocked if any of the top six seeded teams ended up winning it. As much as I always try to base my predictions in data and experience...this one is a gut call. It just needs to be this way.