The Illini are Big Ten champions for the first time since 2005 after picking up a huge win at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Senior Night. (Also, a special shoutout to the Nebraska Cornhuskers for pulling off the upset at Wisconsin to open the door for a co-championship for us). Sunday’s matchup was yet another hard fought contest between the Illini and Hawkeyes in what has become a revived rivalry in the Underwood era.
Let’s a take a look at both the good and the bad from this game.
It was an emotional day for many Illinois fans as Sunday marked the last home game for Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Willams, Alfonso Plummer and (likely) Jacob Grandison. Though Grandison and Plummer were transfers they have adjusted seamlessly to the program and ensured the positive momentum of the program would continue. On the other hand, Frazier and Williams have been the two constants in the Illinois resurgence under Brad Underwood. They have been vital in instilling the culture on the court and have been dependable players throughout, truly embodying the #EveryDayGuys mantra. Kofi Cockburn was also honored during the pregame festivities despite being a junior.
It was great they were able to wrap up the seniors’ home careers, especially Da’Monte and Trent, with a victory at State Farm Center and a Big Ten title.
Hawkins started the season with big expectations and was expected to play a major role following the departure of Giorgi Bezhanishvili. His uneven play in the beginning of the season led to his playtime dwindling, but he’s picked it up down the stretch and has had some major contributions.
He started Sunday’s game with an amazing block:
Coleman continued to make pivotal plays throughout whether it was rebounding or cutting to the hoop at the right time, he even made a big 3 in crunch time. This was all in addition to being tasked with guarding a probable first round pick in Keegan Murray all night.
He came up huge in the spot start, and Illinois probably wouldn’t have won this game without him.
Curbelo’s up and down play
Curbelo is very important to this team and the spark he can provide off the bench lifts this team’s ceiling to another level. But, it just seems as of late he’s been pressing the issue a bit much and trying to make every play a highlight reel play. When it works he looks like a wizard on the court.
This was way too smooth by Curbelo— Barstool Bench Mob (@stoolbenchmob) March 7, 2022
But more times than not on Sunday, he tried to attack the rim too aggressively and just tossed up a heavily contested layup or tried to thread a pass through a non existent window. On the stat sheet he only had 4 turnovers, but there were a handful more possessions where the play got broken up and they were left with only a few seconds on the shot clock which resulted in a wasted possession. Momentum is vital in March, and the Illini can’t afford to waste possessions like we did on Sunday and still expect to come up victorious each time.
The Illini were a little lackluster on the glass in the middle stages of the game despite having a significant size advantage over the Hawkeyes. Kofi was guarding Kris Murray for long stretches of the game and was dragged out to the perimeter; as a result they weren’t able to just rely on him to clean up the glass.
It seemed that the team as a whole was just used to Kofi clearing out the ball for them and everyone was undisciplined in their box outs, resulting in Iowa picking up second-chance opportunities. As Brad Underwood pointed out during a timeout, Iowa’s starting point guard was its leading rebounder, which shouldn’t be happening if they are aggressively pursuing rebounds.
Overall, it was a good game for the Illini, and they showed good resolve in overcoming a 15-point deficit. They go into the conference tourney as the No. 1 seed and co-champions of the Big Ten so I can’t complain, just have to shore some things up.