Don't be Surprised

Wisconsin has earned a spot in the NCAA tournament field. With one more victory, so will an Illinois team with a losing record.

The surprising Illini look to finish of a remarkable weekend with another upset and secure an NCAA bid when they face the eighth-ranked and top-seeded Badgers in the Big Ten tournament final Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Wisconsin –7 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on Wisconsin –7 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

While a victory Sunday could give Wisconsin (28-4) a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, 10th-seeded Illinois (16-18) needs to win the title to earn the automatic bid just to make the field of 65.

Wisconsin, the Big Ten regular-season champion, reached the final by rallying for a 65-63 win over No. 19 Michigan State in Saturday's semifinals.

Illinois, meanwhile, beat sixth-seeded Minnesota 54-50 hours later in its semifinal contest, one day after shooting 61.2 percent to beat No. 2 seed Purdue 74-67 in overtime.

"I'm just happy we're able play another day and get to enjoy the season," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team has won three games in three days.

This will be the third time the schools have met in the tournament's championship game. Illinois beat the Badgers 54-43 in 2005 after the Badgers topped the Illini 70-53 to win their only crown in 2004.

While Illinois looks to become the first school to win three Big Ten tournament titles, its current surge is reminiscent of the school's march to the league title game in 1999. After finishing 11-17 in the regular season, the 11th-seeded Illini upset three ranked opponents before losing to Michigan State 67-50 in the final.

That was the last time Illinois failed to make the NCAA tournament. Making sure that doesn't happen again, however, won't be easy as Illinois tries to snap a four-game losing streak to Wisconsin. In addition to winning both meetings this season, the Badgers beat the Illini 53-41 in the semifinals of the 2007 tournament.

"It's kind of like the old Green Bay Packers sweep,'' Weber said of Wisconsin's deliberate style. "You know what's coming. Can you stop it?''

Wisconsin beat Illinois by a combined 24 points during the regular season, but the Badgers might have to play better than they did Saturday if they are to continue their success over Illinois and win their 10th straight game overall.

Michael Flowers' steal and layup with 30 seconds left was the difference Saturday for Wisconsin, which rallied from 12 down in the second half and won despite shooting 37.0 percent.

"I don't think words can really describe what the guys did in the comeback,'' said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, whose team lost 66-49 to Ohio State in the 2007 Big Ten title game. "Probably the best way to describe it is to put a DVD on, watch it again and make your own observations.''

Wisconsin, though, held Michigan State to 40.0 percent shooting in the second half and shot 18 more free throws than the Spartans, who had four players foul out, to reach the finals for the fourth time in five years.

"Right now, we're trying to be the most opportunistic team in the country,'' Ryan said.

Brian Butch had 19 points, while Marcus Landry added 18 with nine rebounds and Joe Krabbenhoft 11 and 10 boards for the Badgers. Landry is averaging 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds against Illinois this season.

The Badgers could be without starting guard Trevon Hughes, who went down with an apparent ankle injury Saturday. The sophomore is averaging 20.0 points on 58.3 percent shooting against Illinois this season.

Shaun Pruitt had 16 points and eight rebounds on Saturday for the Illini, who held an opponent to fewer than 60 points for the fifth time in seven games.

The 6-foot-10 Pruitt, who had 16 points in Illinois' 71-57 home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 20 in the teams' most recent meeting, is averaging 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in the Big Ten tournament this weekend.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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