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Illinois looks like a No. 1 seed

No Ayo, no problem.

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

No. 4 Illinois handed No. 2 Michigan only its second loss of the season Tuesday night in Ann Arbor. The Illini improved their record to 19-6 overall, 15-4 in Big Ten play, and claimed arguably the best road win in program history.

With All-American Ayo Dosunmu on the bench, the Illini opened Tuesday’s night game as the 8.5-point underdog. After a slow start by both offenses, Curbelo sparked the Illini scoring with an 8-0 run as soon as he touched the floor. Michigan battled bringing the lead under five multiple times, but the Illini were too hot and took a 33-22 lead into the break.

Early in the second half both Cockburn and Dickinson were benched due to foul trouble. That left the gate open for Illinois to embarrass Michigan on its home floor. After a 27-7 run by the Illini in the second half, the Wolverines just couldn't keep up with these Illini.

The final score read 76-53, a 23-point upset of the No. 2 team in the country (without the winning team’s best player).

Let’s break down what went right.

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

Gaurd Play

Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo were both major factors in the outcome of the Michigan matchup. The senior Frazier became the No. 1 scoring option with his teammate Ayo out with an injury. Frazier stepped up in a big way, finishing the game with a game-high 22 points. He knocked down two three-pointers and finished the night 7-of-18 from the field with 2 steals, as well. The Wellington, Florida, native, has become one of the best defenders in the Big Ten and he’s a major reason why the Illini have won the last 10 of 11.

A four-year guy who bleeds orange and blue like Frazier deserves all the praise he receives.

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

Curbelo was also a spark for the Illini offensively, finishing with 17 points in only 19 minutes. Whether it's scoring, distributing or rebounding, Curbelo has brought a whole other factor to this Illini roster for teams to worry about. The quick and shifty freshman continued to impress in this primetime matchup.

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

With the combination of Ayo and Kofi, guys like Trent and Curbelo can take this team's abilities to a whole other level.

Don't Overlook

The stat sheet doesn't show the whole story here however, this was a total team effort in every way from top to bottom.

Kofi Cockburn finished the night with 12 points, 7 rebounds and a block. Not the numbers that Illini fans know Kofi can put up, but his impact on the defensive end was monumental. The sophomore center kept All-American center Hunter Dickinson to 6 points on 1-of-8 shooting.

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

Dickinson wasn't the only Wolverine shut down by the Illini’s defense either. All-Big Ten candidates Isiah Livers (5 points, 2-7 shooting) and Franz Wagner (2 points, 1-9 shooting) were held to a combined 7 points. Only one Michigan player saw double-digit scoring: Eli Brooks with 11 points.

Also notable for the Illini:

  • Damonte Wiliams (7 points, 6 rebounds)
  • Adam Miller (6 points, 4 rebounds)

The Big Picture

Michigan got its matchup against Illinois in the toughest part of the Illini’s season so far, whether it was planned that way or not. Without Ayo Dosunmu, Michigan looked poised to claim the Big Ten Title on its homecourt. Instead, this Illini roster has stepped up winning its third game in a row without Dosunmu.

The regular-season title is still Michigan’s to lose with two games remaining against in-state rival Michigan State. Michigan must win one of these two games to claim the regular-season title. Depending on how the last couple of games shake out, the Illini are basically locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament as of today.

In terms of the NCAA tournament, the Illini are currently ranked No. 4, and most bracket experts have them claiming the final No. 1 seed in the tourney. Beating No. 2 Michigan only helps the Illini’s chances of securing one of the No. 1 seeds, but doesn't secure it.

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

The Illini have another top-10 matchup scheduled for Saturday against Ohio State, a team they lost to earlier in the season. With a win against the Buckeyes, Illinois would give itself a very good chance at being a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday and would secure at least the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

If Tuesday night said anything, Brad Underwood has built a program that is capable of winning a National Championship.