Kofi Cockburn
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Fighting Illini run the table in March?

We’ve arrived at conference tournament season for college basketball, which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner.

In the coming days, we’re going to make the case for specific teams to win the whole thing. Who’s your pick to cut down the nets in a few weeks?

We’re starting the series with the University of Illinois. Their size and depth makes them a dangerous out in March Madness.

Regular Season: Big Ten Co-Champions
Record: 22-8 (15-5 in B1G)

Key Games:

  • Loss 83-79 vs Arizona (Dec. 11)
  • Loss 96-88 vs Purdue (2OT) (Jan. 17)
  • Win 56-55 vs Michigan State (Jan. 25)
  • Win 80-67 vs Wisconsin (Feb. 2)
  • Win 79-74 @ Michigan State (Feb. 19)
  • Loss 86-83 vs Ohio State (Feb. 24)
  • Win 74-72 vs Iowa (March 6)

Key Players:

  • Kofi Cockburn, C — 21.0 pts/gm, 10.5 reb/gm
  • Trent Frazier, G
  • Andre Curbelo, G
  • Alfonso Plummer, G

Why they’ll win it all?

The Illini are battle tested. They’ve played a tough schedule in the Big Ten this season and have dealt with injuries throughout the season to key players like Frazier and Curbelo.

Cockburn is one of the most dominating big men in college hoops. He initially entered the NBA Draft last year but opted to return to Champaign for one more run at glory.

They roll into the Big Ten tournament winners of four of their last five, including wins against Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa in their regular season finale.

Defense is their calling card but their ability to score from all over the court makes them dangerous. Let by Cockburn, Illinois out-rebounds their opponents by almost seven boards per game. And they average five assists per game more than their opponents. They held opponents to under 68 points per game.

The lllini shoot 36.7 percent from deep while holding opponents to less than six 3-point attempts per game.

Tab has written about MLB, the NHL and the NFL for more than a decade for publications including The Fourth Period, Bleacher Report and La Vida Baseball. He is the author of two books about the Chicago Blackhawks and has been credentialed for the MLB All-Star Game and postseason and multiple Stanley Cup Finals. He is the co-host of the Line Drive Radio podcast.