What No. 4 Illinois did to No. 2 Michigan on Tuesday -- on Michigan's own court no less! -- could be considered illegal in some jurisdictions.
Without the services of All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu, the Illini (19-6, Big Ten 15-4) dismantled the Wolverines 76-53. It was 33-22 at the half, the game quickly slipping away from Michigan. But it really got out of hand in the second half. Trent Frazier's 16 second-half points (and game-high 22 points) carried Illinois to a whopping 43-31 advantage in the final 20 minutes.
Michigan (18-2, 13-2) has built its stellar season around physical play, tough defense, an efficient all-around offense and good 3-point shooting to buttress its attack. Illinois decided it wasn't going to allow them to play their game. The result was a 42-26 rebounding disparity in the advantage of the Illini, and a woeful 2-of-7 finish from 3-point range for the Wolverines. Their 53 points marked their lowest scoring total all season and lowest since Dec. 3, 2019, when it failed to crack the 50-point mark in a loss to Louisville.
Both teams entered the evening as No. 1 seeds in Jerry Palm's Bracketology. After the loss, Palm has the Wolverines staying a No. 1 seed, but dropping from the No. 2 to the No.3 national seed with their loss. The Illini remain the fourth No. 1 seed with their win, effectively holding steady on the top spot yet shifting ever-so-slightly. Gonzaga and Baylor are the top No. 1 seeds as a result of Tuesday's action.
Illinois has now won 10 of its last 11 games and heaved itself into title contention after a bumpy couple of weeks in December and January. To demolish a Michigan team the way it did without Dosunmu, considering the way this Michigan team has played, should force you to recalibrate expectations. There are only a handful of true, viable teams capable of winning the tournament. The Illini showed with a statement they are undoubtedly among them.
Here are a few key takeaways:
Big game Trent Frazier
There are very few teams in college hoops who have as capable a third man as Illinois has with Trent Frazier. It's a luxury that Illinois exploited with Dosunmu still ailing, as it thrust him into the spotlight and he responded. But even with Dosunmu, Frazier has shown flashes of brilliance. Thrice in the last 35 days he's topped at least 22 points. That type of combustible potential is the type of talent that, paired with the star-studded duo of Dosunmu and Cockburn, can elevate Illinois from good to great.
Kofi Cockburn's impact
I expected Cockburn would have a tough task against Michigan's front line. So on paper, a 23-point Illinois win, you would think, mean Cockburn went off. Instead, he finished the game with 12 points and seven boards. But don't stat-sheet surf. His impact goes beyond the box score here. His impact in this game was primarily on defense, where he held Hunter Dickinson to only six points and five boards. The team as a whole scored 24 points in the paint. That was Cockburn's area to defend all evening and he held up his end of the bargain.
Don't run away, Michigan believers
It's easy after this kind of performance to talk yourself into thinking that maybe Michigan does not consider the top-tier status it's earned throughout the season. No. Michigan remains a mammoth. It took a herculean defensive effort from Illinois and a brutally bad shooting night to expose Michigan into looking human. It can happen. This team still has the goods to be a title contender though between a top-five defense, top-10 offense, veteran experience, 3-point shooting and an NBA big in Dickinson. Don't jump off the bandwagon just yet.