Even with conference tournament season upon us, some of the most interesting things of the day happened off the court. Kansas responded to the NCAA’s notice of allegations. John Beilein hung out at the Crisler Center. As for actual basketball Thursday, here’s what you need to know:
Illinois’ B1G title hopes fade
It’s been a really solid, resurgent season for Illinois. A needed one given the two sub-.500 years to start Brad Underwood’s tenure in Champaign.
It won’t likely end with a Big Ten title, though.
Illinois’ hopes of claiming a piece of the regular-season B1G championship took a critical hit with a 71-63 loss to Ohio State in Columbus. The Illini are now a game back of Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings and would need all three – none of whom play each other – to lose in their B1G finales this weekend and then the Illini would need to beat Iowa as well.
So, probably not happening. But with the NCAA tournament looming ahead, Illinois has a welcome consolation prize in its future.
Illinois led by as many as 11 in the first half, but saw that lead slip away with the Buckeyes taking an 11-point advantage themselves after halftime. Ayo Dosunmu was electric for the Illini, scoring 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting to go along with five boards and five assists, but the rest of the roster didn’t provide much in the way of offensive support. Andres Feliz was the only other Illini to lodge double figures with 11 points, but he was 4 of 14 from the floor. Illinois was 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from 3-point range.
Ohio State, meanwhile, got a 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench from E.J. Liddell while Kaleb Wesson had 19 points. CJ Walker had 15 points, six boards and five assists. The Buckeyes are heading into the postseason on something of a roll after their turn-of-the-year struggles (in which they lost six of seven games). They’ve ripped off four straight that includes victories against Maryland, Michigan and the Illini. Michigan State is up next Sunday in the finale in yet another resume-boosting opportunity in the Big Ten.
San Diego State moves on after scare
There was a little space of time Thursday afternoon where teams like Dayton, Florida State and Seton Hall saw an opening. Air Force, the No. 9 seed in the Mountain West, led San Diego State, a presumptive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, nearing the midway point of the second half. For a moment or two there, it look as though a top seed might open up.
Then the Aztecs got back to being the dominant force they are in that league, holding Air Force without a bucket for nearly the final four minutes and closing out the last 94 seconds on a 7-0 run.
It was a 13-point win, but still one in which they trailed for a big chunk of the game. Not great evidence to refute the idea that San Diego State has gone wobbly lately. First they lost at home to UNLV (who lost its MWC tourney opener Thursday) and then beat Colorado State and Nevada by just single digits. Easily could just be a team that’s been mostly unbeatable all season long getting a little bored with the stakes lowered a little bit. Or it could be something more.
We might find out in a couple weeks.
Tulsa wins a piece of the American
It wasn’t unreasonable to think heading into this season Frank Haith might be feeling the heat at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane made the First Four in his second season there and spent the subsequent three seasons missing the NCAA tournament. His peers in the American picked his team to finish 10th in the 12-team league in the preseason poll. All that doesn’t scream job security.
Winning the conference does, though.
Tulsa clinched at least a share of the American on Thursday when UConn knocked off Houston, 77-71, in Storrs. The Hurricane can wrap up the title to themselves if they’re able to beat Wichita State on the road Sunday.