CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — There is no love lost between Illinois and Michigan, something the Illini are not hiding heading into Friday night’s rivalry game at State Farm Center. Not after what happened last year.
The Illini let their play do the talking in a 23-point win against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last March. It’s a victory they thought would be enough to give them at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title with Michigan but a Big Ten ruling settled on win percentage as the final determining factor, despite Illinois having two more conference victories in the COVID-19 altered season. Feathers were ruffled, with Illini head coach Brad Underwood and athletic director Josh Whitman pleading their case to have a share of the championship.
The Illini ended up getting their banner by winning the league’s tournament, the program’s first since 2005, but the sting of not getting a share of the crown still stings 10 months later. It’s something that’s fueling the team heading into Friday.
“There’s definitely a hatred because I feel like we should have another Big Ten banner hanging in our rafters and it’s not there,” Illinois sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins said. “With the way they talk on social media, the way our fans talk about them, I definitely feel a strong hatred, a rivalry between them.”
“Just two teams that don’t like each other,” Illinois senior guard Trent Frazier said. “I mean we know we’re going to get their best punches, there’s going to be ups and downs.”
“You know last season we were the two best teams in the league, we had some outside circumstances involved, whatever they were but we know it’s a really good basketball team and yet it makes college basketball fun, these type of games,” Underwood added.
After not playing or practicing in months, Illini point guard Andre Curbelo is returning to practice in a very limited role, according to Underwood. The sophomore has only played in four games this season, and hasn’t suited up since Nov. 23, after suffering a concussion earlier in the year.
“Everything’s based on conditioning and again everything happens, what he does one day, it’s the reaction to that and that determines what he’s been able to do and push through so we’re gaining ground on that,” Underwood said. “We’re not going to put him out there until he’s in the kind of shape he’s in so it’s kind of one step forward, two steps forward, one step back and then we’ve got to reevaluate but we’re moving in the right direction.”