Illinois' Brad Underwood – ‘No Big Ten Championship Means Much’
Michigan will face Illinois Tuesday night with an opportunity to clinch a Big Ten title. On the other side of it, Illini coach Brad Underwood’s team, currently three games behind U-M in the loss column, could make a strong case by closing the gap with a win.
The Illini will play three more games this year than the Wolverines due to a 23-day, COVID-related stoppage in Ann Arbor that the state recommended, and Underwood is making sure everyone knows what an inconvenience it’s been.
"If I have any frustration, we were perfectly healthy and sat for 10 days in the middle of the season,” Underwood told the News-Gazette. “I know it goes beyond us, but my whole deal is I know hard I have preached and how committed our players have been to doing everything perfect with COVID. These guys have not done one thing outside of the 30 people that are every day testing.”
He might not be aware (or not care), but Michigan’s players have done the same. They were stunned at the shutdown, were playing incredible basketball at the time and had also gone out of their way to stay healthy.
But Underwood didn’t stop there. He seemed to take a swipe at the Wolverines, whose players hadn’t done anything for two weeks while confined to their rooms other than run a bit — certainly no basketball — in seemingly suggesting U-M should have played his Illinois team just a few days after a return to the court.
Instead, the Feb. 11 game was rescheduled to March 2.
"We’re going to do what the league tells us because we think that’s right, and the Big Ten is the league we’re all playing in,” he continued. “It’s unfortunate that the three games we got [postponed] were all road games, and it’s not our fault. I’m going to be bigger than that. I want my players to learn a life lesson — not just a single game moment.
"I think there are certain ways to handle things. We’re a member of the Big Ten Conference. It’s the best conference in basketball. It’s the one-off year. Would it [have been] very easy for us to not play [at Wisconsin]? These games mean nothing. There’s no Big Ten championship that means much. These games don’t mean much. They really don’t. Yet, we’re part of something that’s much bigger. I try to be all about character. The league’s provided these games for us.”
Illinois won in Madison without leading scorer and Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, who is questionable for Tuesday night’s game in Ann Arbor. He’s averaging 21.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists and made the game-winner in Ann Arbor last year.
Dosunmu suffered a broken nose (and apparently more) after getting mugged on a Flagrant 2 cheap shot in East Lansing last week, and Underwood made it clear he wouldn’t be rushed back.
“I’m taking it a day at a time, day-to-day,” Dosunmu said on ESPN College Gameday on Saturday morning. “I’ve been talking to my trainers, talking to my doctors, really just having it in their hands. They do a great job of making sure whenever I’m able to play I can be 100 percent. I’m taking it a day at a time, taking each day and hoping to get better and waiting for that time to come.”
His coach made it sound as though he was questionable at best for Tuesday when asked if his standout would be ready for the postseason, even.
"We're certainly hopeful of that. He's had every possible facial evaluation,” Underwood told CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein. “We're not going to put him out there unless he's fully healthy."
Underwood’s beef with U-M isn’t entirely obvious, but to be clear, Michigan would have been a heavy favorite in each of the games that got cancelled (Indiana at home, Northwestern and Penn State on the road). In addition (and again), Michigan’s players and coaches were as devastated as anyone when the plug was pulled.
None of that seemed to matter to the Illinois coach.
"It’s unfortunate because we’ve done everything COVID correctly to this point. It’s unfortunate we lost three road games,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we sat for 10 days. It’s unfortunate we sat another period for six days and didn’t play. Now we end the season with all these road games crammed in here.
“It would be very easy to say, ‘Hey, we’re the fifth-ranked team in the country, and we’re not going to play them.’ I think there are a lot of life lessons in this that go beyond this game, the next game, whatever. Certain programs do what they do. I don’t care about that. The Big Ten scheduled these games, we’re a member of the Big Ten and we’re going to show up and play.”
Apparently with a chip on the shoulder, and with a potential Big Ten title he alleges he doesn’t really care about still on the line.
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