Michigan vs Illinois Preview

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Top seeded Wolverines battle 9 seed Illini

There really is no logical reason why a number one seeded Michigan team, that just happened to win the nation's best conference by three full games, should be wary of either a nine seeded Illinois or eighth seeded Indiana. But make no mistake, the Wolverines slept a little easier last night knowing they would tip off with the Fighting Illini at noon as opposed to the Indiana Hoosiers.

Michigan finished off their impressive 2013-14 regular season by squeaking out a 4 point win at the Crisler Center. Tom Crean's squad has been a matchup nightmare for the Wolverines all year. When Michigan visited Bloomington in early February they suffered an 11- point loss (their second worst of the season) and was held to a season-low 52 points, 23.5 points below their season average. In particular, the Wolverines are excited to avoid potential top ten pick, Noah Vonleh, and Yogi Ferrell, who averaged over 21 points per game in two meetings against them.

So in a season in which nearly ever break went the Wolverines way following the loss of preseason All-American Mitch McGary, they get another one the first night of postseason play. Michigan enters today's game against an Illinois team they annihilated in Champagne-Urbana just ten days ago. Illinois entered that game with a slim chance at an at-large NCAA tournament birth if they could secure a marquee win over Michigan, but the Wolverines ended that possibility in a hurry. Michigan's 31 point win was their largest in Big Ten play, but perhaps more impressive was the Illini came into that game holding teams under 50 points four straight games and Michigan had 52 at the break. This Illinois defense was stout again against the Hoosiers but this Michigan team is playing extremely well heading into Indianapolis.

With Villanova's loss Thursday in the first round of the Big East Tournament, experts are saying that either Michigan or Wisconsin stands to possibly slip into the final #1 seed for the Big Dance if they can win it all in Indy. As if this team needed any more motivation. John Beilein is coming off arguably the best coaching job of his 35 year career and Nik Stauskus has developed into a lottery pick in the latest mock drafts if he decides to declare. Illinois has to win this tournament in order to receive a bid to the Big Dance so this won't be as easy as it was in Champagne-Urbana. Nevertheless the Wolverines handle business like a number one seed should.

Prediction: Michigan 77 Illinois 65

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