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Hoosiers get rematch with Illinois

No. 1 Indiana meets Illini Friday at noon

Tyler Griffey's last-second layup gave Illinois a wild win over Indiana in the regular season.
Tyler Griffey's last-second layup gave Illinois a wild win over Indiana in the regular season.

Five days after a big win over Michigan, Indiana gets to travel to the state of Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini.

That should ring a bell.

Back Feb. 7, the Hoosiers -- who had toppled then-No.1 Michigan five days earlier -- went to Champaign and lost at the buzzer, 74-72, thanks to Illinois' late-game comeback.

Indiana (26-5) gets its shot at revenge Friday at noon when it faces off with the Illini (22-11) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, which is being played at the United Center in Chicago.

Indiana, the tourney's top seed, sealed the outright Big Ten title with a thrilling 72-71 win at Michigan last Sunday. The Hoosiers trailed by 11 points in the first half -- their largest deficit of the season -- and five with less than a minute to play before storming back for a momentous victory.

Eighth-seeded Illinois advanced to the quarterfinals with an opening-round win over No. 9 seed Minnesota. Brandon Paul nailed a pull-up jumper at the buzzer to push the Illini past the Gophers, 51-49.

Teams that shoot the 3-pointer as much as Illinois does (23.2 attempts per game) tend to be very unpredictable. Well, the Illini -- who should be playing in front of a pro-Illinois crowd -- have been one of the nation's most unpredictable teams this season.

They started the year with 12 consecutive wins, and then closed the year by losing 11 of their final 21 games, including an 8-10 record in Big Ten play. Illinois has two wins over likely No. 1 seeds (Gonzaga, Indiana) as well as a couple head-scratching losses (Purdue, Northwestern).

Illinois shot horribly against Minnesota, hitting just 6 of 25 from beyond the arc and shooting a measly 32 percent (18 for 56) overall. Paul had 25 points, but no other player had more than six. The key to beating the Gophers was forcing turnovers. Illinois won the turnover battle 17-5. Minnesota shot the ball just 40 times in the game (and still almost won).

For Indiana, the nation's second-highest scoring team (80.8 points per game), six players average at least seven points -- Cody Zeller (16.8), Victor Oladipo (13.7), Christian Watford (12.4), Jordan Hulls (10.5), Will Sheehey (9.5) and Kevin Ferrell (7.7).

There's no debating who the better team is here, but any squad that shoots 20-plus 3-pointers per game is a dangerous one. If the Illini are hitting, they can beat anybody, as they've shown this season.

There's also a little doubt in my mind about just how hungry Indiana will be for the Big Ten Tournament. Winning the regular season title was quite an accomplishment, and one which likely locked up a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. Will Indiana "bring it" tomorrow? Who knows. One would think they'd like to get a little revenge from that buzzer-beating loss in Champaign.

Hoosier Nation has been eyeing the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region all season, which would put Indiana in Dayton and Indianapolis for its first four tourney games. It would be a nice advantage, but over half (three) of the Hoosiers' five losses this season have come in Indy or Bloomington, so maybe not as significant of an upper hand as is being assumed.

Still, getting to play Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Indy would be nice, and, I think, the Hoosiers have most likely already earned the right to do just that. However, a slip-up early in the Big Ten Tournament may give the committee reason to think otherwise.

The winner between the Hoosiers and Illini will have a semifinal date with either sixth-ranked Michigan or No. 22 Wisconsin, who square off at 2 p.m. Friday in the 4/5 game.