Bracket Reveal SOC

Mar 16, 2021

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So as Sundays go, yesterday was pretty good. Secure a last minute ticket to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game. Three hour drive to Indy. Lunch with the Supreme Leader. 40 minutes plus 5 of big boy basketball. WON THAT CHAMPIONSHIP. Watched our name flash up on the 1-seed line on the Lucas Oil Stadium big board along with 6000 other orange clad fans. That will do. That will do indeed.

So what to do on the three hour drive back home? Contemplate the freshly minted bracket of course. On our pre-BTT podcast last week, Robert and I discussed our wishes for a "clean" bracket. "Clean" in the sense of being narrative free and lined up with the most favorable matchups possible. Wishful thinking of course, but hey, a couple of long suffering Illini fans/bloggers can dream right?

Let's start with narratives. Don't want them. Won't read them. I didn't want to see Loyola. Robert didn't want to see Oklahoma State.


I live in the Chicago area and I appreciated Loyola's run to the Final Four in 2018 as much as any college basketball fan. I grew up Catholic and Sister Jean is an absolute treasure. Get them the hell out of my bracket.

Yeah I get it - I'm selfish. I don't want the Chicago media spotlight shining anywhere but directly over our heads. Unfortunately, though, looks like it will be a shared billing at least through Friday. From a purely basketball perspective, Georgia Tech is probably the tougher second round opponent, but I want to remain as far from that potentia media sideshow as possible. Go Georgia Tech.

Oklahoma State. This potential Sweet 16 matchup brings with it challenges from both the narrative and basketball perspectives. First - the narrative. Brad Underwood vs The Team He Left Behind. I'm guessing Oklahoma State fans are positively thrilled with Mike Boynton as their head coach, and I'm certain Oklahoma State fans want nothing more than to see their team ruin Underwood's.

The Cowboys present myriad basketball issues as well. There's been plenty of fear mongering over OSU in recent weeks - and with good reason. The Cowboys just finished off a three week stretch that might have ranked as the best in college basketball were it not for our recent run. They beat Oklahoma (twice) and West Virginia to close out the regular season, and then took down fellow #1 seed Baylor and West Virginia (again) in the Big 12 Tournament before falling in the in title game to Texas.

For all the Luka vs Ayo National POY debate, there isn't much debate over who the first overall pick in the next NBA draft will be. That's OSU's sublime guard Cade Cunningham. A matchup between Ayo Dosunmu and Cunningham would be scintillating and supercharged. I just wish I wasn't 4000% emotionally invested in one side of that matchup so that I might enjoy it more. In addition to Cunningham, they are the 22nd ranked KenPom defense and have the type of length on the perimeter that has given us fits.

Fun fact: both Illinois (3-0) and Oklahoma State (4-0) are undefeated in OT. That could be a sample size/luck thing, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that both teams have clutch All-Americans leading the way.

Conventional wisdom from the bracketologists had Oklahoma State solidly on the three line. So, of course, why wouldn't this underseeded and narrative laden team end up potentially blocking our path to the Elite 8?

Yet for all the national buzz surrounding Oklahoma State, I'm not entirely sure that Tennessee - the 5 seed in the Midwest bracket - isn't the better team. The Vols struggle offensively, but they rank 4th in defensive efficiency on KenPom. They could very well grind a game down to a tempo of their liking and muck things up were we to face them. Either way, it's going to be way too much orange on the floor.

Robert and I touched on a few other teams in our podcast. I didn't want to see the athletes of Florida State or the pressure defense of West Virginia. Robert preferred we avoid Texas and Virginia for similar reasons. Robert's fears went unrealized, but hello Huggs.

Were a game against West Virginia to come to fruition, it would be fascinating to see if the defense Underwood left behind could in fact inflict damage upon our already turnover prone team (Although it bears noting that we turned the ball over under 15% of our possession in the three BTT games - well below our season average of 18%).

I could try to conjure up some drama about Houston, but I'll confess to knowing little about the Cougars outside the fact that their coach is Kelvin Sampson and their first round game is being played at IU's Assembly Hall. The irony - delicious.

Oddly though, after processing my initial bracket angst, I found myself settling into unfamiliar Illinois basketball territory - a good place. A comfort zone borne out of the trust I've gained in the team I just watched cut down the net in Indianapolis. Over the past six games, we've played the equivalent of 7 seed, 1 seed, 2 seed, 10 seed, 2 seed, and 2 seed. W, W, W, W, W, W.

This is the NCAA Tournament. If you're going to make it through this thing, you have to win six straight games, Of course you're going to run into some narrative and of course you're going to run into matchup issues. It's the nature of the beast. We've just spent the past three weeks watching this team rise to every occasion and meet every challenge. I'm good with just seeing who shows up on the bracket opposite us and watching these dudes do their thing.


San Joaquin on March 16, 2021 @ 02:26 PM

Great stuff. Have well earned a handle upgrade to Scholarship.

AGig21 on March 16, 2021 @ 04:36 PM

I love the way the committee claims there is no thought put into matchups other than the metrics. Whatever. Last night I watched CBS's bracket show. If Ayo needs any motivation (not suggesting he does but if he does) he need only listen to Wally Szczerbiak somewhat call him out and imply he ain't the games best closer. Although I will add, I wish he had driven to the bucket with time running down in regulation as opposed to the long jumper he took.

IlliniJoe81 on March 16, 2021 @ 07:30 PM

I'm glad Ayo didn't hit that 3, because it wasn't the right play. We'll need the right play from him next time. He was likely gassed after missing some time and having so many games in a short period. This week should be good for him.

I also like that there is a little narrative energy in our bracket. Beating Bruce Pearl was fun in 2005. I don't want us just showing up and expecting a cake walk. That's never been good for this year's team. Get a little juice about ACC Tourney Champs vs. Big Ten Tourney Champs or who from Chicago is going to the Final Four or a little hype for going against the #1 NBA prospect. That's good for this team.

The teams that give us the most trouble are the slumping elites loaded up with high-caliber athletes or teams coming in with more of an edge than we have.

For everyone who is afraid of Oklahoma State, did they beat a single decent team by double-digits? Yeah, they beat Baylor when the #1 3-point shooting team in the league (41.8%) went 6-28 from behind the arc. Oklahoma State doesn't have some kind of special 3-point defense so that may have been a bit of a fluke. If Oklahoma State brings their B-game against a good team, they lose. Could easily be out in the first round.

Tennessee is a team I haven't studied but it looks like they are all on Weight Watchers. I don't really understand their deal but I know they are down a player and that's a dangerous place for a 5 seed to be. Could be a fascinating matchup for Kofi and our guards trying to pass and finish against a bunch of pogo sticks.

Nobody on the 2/3 side of the bracket is going to be more imposing than Iowa/Ohio State. With a Final Four on the line, the Illini will be laser-focused.

The two teams I didn't want to see were North Carolina in the 8/9 and Florida State on the 4 line. I don't know what kind of analytic magic Nate Oats has at Alabama but I'm glad we don't see them either.

Get me to a Final Four with Baylor and Gonzaga and I'm a happy guy. Playing for a National Championship with nothing to lose. Ohio State and Iowa might be more beatable on paper but I can't handle any possibility of losing to either of them on the ultimate stage after two tough wins in our last matchups with both of them.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on March 17, 2021 @ 03:15 PM

No path is tougher than the past 3 weeks for this team. Cake walk.

Norcal Illini on March 17, 2021 @ 05:47 PM

Tyler, I would like your take on the offensive strategy in the last two minutes of regulation against tOSU. Illinois got the ball back with 2:21 left at a 6-point lead. We had four possessions after that, and in 3 of them the ball was dribbled out front, and Ayo missed a jumper with only a couple seconds left on the shot clock. On the third possession, we were fortunate that Da'Monte got the bucket, but it felt lucky. It's like plays at the end of the half, points per possession seem like 0.1 or lower. Why do coaches continue to do that? Why don't they just run their regular offense?

Walkon on March 17, 2021 @ 06:29 PM

I’d like to think if he had those possessions back Underwood would play those final 2 minutes differently. That said - one thought might have been he didn’t want the offense to run through Kofi since OSU was in Hack-A-Kofi mode. Running the entire clock and putting the possessions in the hands of the best closer in the college game isn’t ever a terrible strategy after all. It’s mostly worked. We are in the 90th percentile in college basketball in scoring in late shot clock situations (just looked that up).

That said Ayo just seemed off down the stretch - which in hindsight is why I think Underwood might play it differently.

AGig21 on March 17, 2021 @ 07:19 PM

I'm predicting a pass from Ayo to DW at the buzzer to win the NT. Full disclosure, it's also what I said to my son before Ayo took that 3 in the BT tourney but I like the idea of saving it for all the marbles.

Illini_1105 on March 18, 2021 @ 02:05 AM

Good article, I agree if we are going to win the tournament, we are going to have to beat some really good teams therefore I am not worried about the first 3 games. Fans are worried about Loyola Chicago????? Are you kidding me?? If we are going to reach the final four and win the tournament, which is the only thing result fans are going to be happy with, then why are we already concerned with the round 32 game???? Let's take this tournament 1 game at a time and win this thing

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