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Iowa forward Tyler Cook addresses a first-round matchup against Illinois. Chad Leistikow / The Register

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NEW YORK — From the coach’s full garment bag to academic support staff, Illinois is prepared for an extended stay at the Big Ten Conference Tournament.

It might seem more sensible for a team seeded 13th out of 14 to expect an early check-out.

But, with the Illini having played at nearby Rutgers on Sunday, plans were in place for the team to stay in New York for more than a week.

If Illinois were to advance all the way to Sunday's Big Ten title game, it would have played six games in the New York area in eight days.

3 THINGS THE HAWKEYES CAN ACCOMPLISH IN NEW YORK

“We’ve been planning and filing waivers,” Illini first-year coach Brad Underwood said. “We’ve got our academic people here.

“I brought enough clothes to look like my whole closet is here.”

The way the Illini (14-17 overall, 4-14 Big Ten) have been trending lately, Underwood might cycle through multiple suits.

They’re young. They’re improving. They're shooting the 3 well.

They’re the type of team that can get hot and make a run. Illinois’ tournament opener comes against 12th-seeded Iowa (13-18, 4-14) at 4:30 p.m. CT Wednesday inside legendary Madison Square Garden.

The winner would face No. 5 seed Michigan at approximately 1:30 p.m. CT Thursday.

Iowa won the teams’ lone meeting, on Jan. 11, in which the Hawkeyes rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit to emerge, 104-97 in overtime in Champaign, Ill.

“I was impressed with Illinois,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday. “And I mean that sincerely. I thought they were ready to play. They compete as well as any team on our schedule. Brad’s got them playing hard. They share the ball. They play with a lot of guys. They play with a lot of energy.”

Late-February Illinois is much different than the mid-January version.

First, the Illini didn’t have starting guard Te’Jon Lucas against Iowa because of a rules violation. The distributing 6-foot-1 guard has drawn opposing teams’ best perimeter defender of late.

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Iowa coach Fran McCaffery hopes the Hawkeyes can build off Sunday’s 77-70 win against Northwestern. Chad Leistikow / The Register

Second, Illinois finished the Big Ten campaign with a 4-6 mark after a 0-8 start, including a recent win vs. No. 4 seed Nebraska.

“I would like to think we’re playing a lot better (than on Jan. 11),” Underwood said. “I think we’re playing better offensively. I think we’ve grown some defensively, in terms of not making as many mistakes. Our bench has gotten better.”

This smells like a difficult matchup for Iowa.

Underwood’s style, which he employed at Stephen F. Austin and then Oklahoma State in reaching the past four NCAA Tournaments, instills high-powered offense and in-your-face defense.

In Illinois’ last four games, it’s committed a total of only 30 turnovers (7.5 per game) while raining in 36 3-pointers (9.0 per game). The Hawkeyes’ season, as it turns out, has been marred by high-turnover sequences and continued struggles to defend the 3.

Illinois’ top five scorers are all threats to knock down a 3-pointer, led by freshman Trent Frazier’s 58.

“We were a team that was turning the ball over a lot early,” Underwood said. “I think we’ve eliminated some of those. And then we’re shooting the ball better, which always helps.”

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Nicholas Baer discusses the Hawkeye mindset entering the Big Ten Tournament. Chad Leistikow / The Register

 

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