Bracket Reveal SOC
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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.