Big Ten Tournament Thursday 2023 - Moments

Mar 10, 2023

10:00 AM

It's here! My favorite two basketball days of the year - Big Ten Tournament Thursday and Friday. What you ask? Not the first two days of the NCAA Tournament?

Well, no. For one, I'm never in attendance for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Don't get me wrong - I love immersing myself in multi-television hoops overload as much as anyone, but there's just something to be said for being in the room where it happens.

Also - the NCAA Tournament generally comes with two emotions. Disconnect or hyper stress. Either Illinois is not in the dance and the whole thing feels a little empty, or Illinois is in the field and every day is wrapped up in brain freezing angst.

The Big Ten Tournament? Relatively stress free on both accounts. In most cases (Rutgers/Michigan notwithstanding) either you're already in the NCAA tournament and it's basically a tune-up and maybe you can move up a seed line, but it's not the same as WIN OR GO HOME.

Or… you're just watching a team playing out the string with nothing to lose while looking for a couple of wins to end the season on a positive note.

So yes, bring me eight games of Big Ten hoop over 36 hours and I'm in basketball nirvana. Now, of course, BTT Thursday this year comes with a side helping of nervous energy as Penn State definitely has some juice to squeeze out of this game and Illinois is looking to this weekend as an opportunity to establish some solid footing heading into the NCAA tournament.

So all in all I prefer my BTT Thursday Illini free, but it still promises to be a fantastic couple of days and here's how BTT Thursday unfolded through my eyes:

10:30 AM

United Center arrival - with fearless leader Robert in tow. Plenty of time before tip off of the first game of the day at 11:00. First priority is assessing the food and drink situation in the media hospitality room. A man watching 10 hours of basketball needs a steady flow of Diet Dr. Pepper after all. There is also normally food for the media provided before each session, but I have some concern because of the threat of a concession worker strike at the United Center. However, my concerns are immediately alleviated as there is a bountiful spread of chicken fingers!

11:00 AM

It's tipoff time for 8 seed Michigan vs 9 seed Rutgers which kind of feels like an NCAA tournament play in game. Think Rutgers is safe with a win today while Michigan might need this one plus one more tomorrow.

11:10 AM

We are media nomads. No assigned seating for this session for the Illinois contingent so a gaggle of Illini scribes (Robert, Loren Tate, Andy Olson, Joey Wagner, Derek Piper) all kind of found our way to the corner just behind the Michigan bench.

12:40 PM

BTN's Dave Revsine swings by to chat up Loren. Their convo is mostly surrounding Bruce Weber who is providing on site studio analysis for the BTN today. They both agree that Bruce is an all around swell guy.

12:45 PM

Michigan is sliding off a cliff right into the abyss of the NIT. They are shooting 1-17 in the second half and find themselves down 14 points with under five minutes to play. Their NCAA hopes are just about dunzo.

12:50 PM

The powers that be in the Big Ten apparently decided that a hype DJ stationed in an otherwise empty 300 level surrounded by five or six random fans dancing in the background was a good idea. It's maybe the saddest thing I've ever seen.

1:07 PM


Rutgers 62 Michigan 50

Put Rutgers in the dance and Michigan to the NIT. A small but vocal collection of MSU fans who filtered in behind us late in the game are serenading the Wolverines with the obligatory NIT NIT NIT chant. Michigan fans are quite salty.

1:20 PM

I took a photo with Brutus Buckeye. Whatever.

1:35 PM

Tip off of Game 2: Iowa v Ohio State.

Not nearly as much riding on this game. OSU is technically playing for their season - but would need a win today and tomorrow before that even garnered an eyebrow raise. Iowa is kind of like Illinois. NCAA lock - just trying to figure out their seed.

2:30 PM

Met up with the old Big Ten Tournament crew. And by old I'm talking ancient. Like AOL message board ancient. This group of early Illini fan message board adopters met up for the BTT every year - Chicago or Indy - from 2003 through 2010. Bruce Weber and John Groce kind of killed that but it was such a blast. One year at the Illinois assigned bar in Indy (The Ram) Loren Tate took off his shirt. You aren't an Illini fan unless you've seen Loren's bare chest.

3:00 PM

This game remains devoid of energy - even though it's been pretty much a one possession game for the entire second half. min. Even Fran McCaffery seems rather disinterested. He's been at a disappointing FRANCON 9 the entire game.

3:15 PM

Wandered the United Center concourse a bit. Great venue, but I still feel the Big Ten is leaning way too much into the HYPE of this event. You can't swing a stick in here without hitting an Instagram friendly photo op spot or avoid being blitzed into hashtagging the experience. Probably (definitely) yelling at clouds here, but I think it feels more about the basketball when this event is in Indianapolis. Next year it moves to Minneapolis and I'm looking forward to experiencing that vibe.

3:35 PM


OSU 73 Iowa 69

There will not be a back to back winner of the BTT. The Buckeyes still have a faint pulse and defending champ Iowa heads back home to await their NCAA tournament seed and destination. The comparison of the Iowa and Illinois bracket sheets is a fascinating one. If you value Q1 wins - then Iowa has the better resume with five such wins to just the two Illinois Q1 wins. If you feel bad losses should carry a heavy penalty then give us the edge. We have just the two Q1 wins but are 11-1 in Q2/Q3 games while Iowa has a whopping five Q2 and Q3 losses and a Q4 loss.

In any case, it's the second upset of the day and the fourth straight (by seed) in the BTT so far. Let's hope that trend reverses this evening.

4:55 PM

Illinois is out for warmups and Jayden Epps is dressed and looks ready to go. Doubt he'll play much but per other media reports he will be available tonight. Tip off with Penn State in 30 minutes.

5:20 PM

The Illini coaching staff appears to have abandoned the sartorial splendor look in favor of orange quarter zips and tennis shoes. They've been in suits since December. Looking for a mojo change - I assume to break the pattern of slow starts we've seen from this team recently. Or maybe packing four suits for a weekend is a tremendous pain.

5:30 PM

It's officially go time. After the Purdue game, Brad Underwood lamented that his team had not run the first play of the game successfully all season. It looks like they got the action they wanted with Dain Dainja in the block - but he misses a lefty hook. I kind of feel like he surrenders to that move far too often - especially against smaller defenders. Would much rather he fight to get to his strong hand.

5:40 PM

Matt Mayer has seemingly come to play. Two offensive rebound put backs - including a 3 point play but it's 8-7 PSU at the under 16 TO. I know we have the best 2 point shot defense in the conference, but it still feels like every contested mid-range jump shot from Penn State has been going in since December.

5:47 PM

Six of the first nine Illini points are on offensive rebounds. Good sign. 0-3 from three so far. Bad sign.

5:52 PM

Yep, slow out of the gate once again. At the under 12 media TO we have just 12 points on 5-16 shooting. Meanwhile Penn State continues to confound the Illini defense - shooting 62% from the floor so far. It's 17-12 Nittany Lions.

6:00 PM

The song remains the same so. TSJ follows a pure three with a pure air ball. Penn State knocks down a three on the other end and are now up eight at 25-17. Brad Underwood wants a time out.

6:04 PM

Disjointed is the best word I can use to describe the first 14 minutes of this game from Illinois. The only thing preventing a bigger margin right now is our 10 second chance points. It's 27-20 Penn State at the under 8 TO and Dainja misses two FT's out of the time out. On brand. On the positive side - Jayden Epps enters the game for Illinois for the first time. And immediately air balls a three.

6:10 PM

Stop me if you've heard this before. 6-17 (35%) from two and 3-12 from deep (25%) for Illinois. 29-22 PSU at the under 4 TO.

6:15 PM

Finally some life from the partisan Illini crowd after we force a shot clock violation and Coleman Hawkins converts at the other end. Illinois has found a little something with Hawkins in the post against Jalen Pickett or Myles Dread. He's got two straight buckets down low and it's now an 8-0 Illini run to pull within one at 29-28. Micah Shrewsberry also wants a time out.

6:21 PM

Plenty to build on at the end the half for Illinois as we closed on a 13-4 run to pull to 31-30 at half. Still frustrating though as three opportunities to take the lead in the half were off target. We've been a second half team over the past month - so let's see if that holds true.

6:28 PM

There was a puppy adoption event at halftime - with 14 puppies adorned with the colors of each Big Ten team. The Michigan puppy was booed mercilessly. Honestly, I think he kind of deserved it.

6:40 PM

The second half is underway. Dain Dainja converts a three point play and Illinois has their first lead in forever at 35-34. Matthew Mayer may have tweaked his ankle though - going to watch that development.

6:45 PM

The defense remains sturdy early in the second half although the shooting remains iffy. Still just enough for a 39-38 Illinois lead at the under 16. Matt Mayer is back in the game by the way.

6:51 PM

Mikey Henn of Penn State is a straight up hit man. He's got four fouls in just seven minutes of playing time. Meanwhile Coleman is on a heater and we are already in the bonus with 14:18 left in the half.

6:53 PM

We cannot stand prosperity though. After Dainja converts a bucket and is fouled to put Illinois up 45-40, his celebration leads him right into a collision with Myles Dread and he's whistled for a technical foul. Dainja makes his plus one FT, but Penn State makes both tech free throws on their end. Kind of feels like a momentum stopper - but fortunately we limit the damage by stopping PSU on their ensuing offensive possession.

6:56 PM

We remain a momentum averse team. Luke Goode misses a three which would have pushed us to our largest lead at seven points. This is then followed by an Andrew Funk 3, an Illinois turnover, and a Pickett bucket as PSU now leads again at 47-46.

6:58 PM

Trading buckets now. Illinois leads 51-49 at the under 12 TO. Fun fact: Illinois beat Minnesota in this tournament in this building on a BP3 buzzer beater in 2013 by that exact score. Hey look it's future Illini Morez Johnson on the big screen!

7:03 PM

TSJ gets tangled up at half court loose ball and his down holding his ankle. Meanwhile play goes on with Penn State firing up threes and missing but getting offensive rebounds playing 5 on 4. They have way too many second chance points tonight for a team who has literally the worst offensive rebounding rate in all of college basketball

7:12 PM

Dain Dainja has found himself - converting his third three point play of the night to push the Illinois lead back to 56-55. The Illini crowd is alive again and although this is kind of sad - this might be the best Illini crowd in this building in a decade.

7:14 PM

Nothing comes easy for this Illinois team against this Penn State team - but much of the difficulty is self inflicted. We get a big stop after the previous Dainja three point play, but TSJ throws the ball directly to Camryn Wynter for a runout. Winter is fouled by Mayer and makes one of two free throws to tie the game at 56. Fun fact: Camryn Wynter was on the Drexel team who we beat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago.

7:23 PM

Slip, slip, slipping away. We trail 64-57 with under five minutes to go courtesy of some rough trips to the foul line. Dainja and Mayer each missed the front ends of one and ones and TSJ made only one of two after a shooting foul.

7:30 PM

This one is just about put to bed. Appropriately, Funk lays the sleeping baby taunt on us for the third straight game after he drains yet another three. I hate that dude. I hate that he's 14-24 (58%!) on threes against for the season.

7:40 PM

What a disappointment down the stretch. From 56-56 with 7:00 to play to 72-60 with 2:00 to go. Make that a 16-4 Penn State run to put this one pretty much out of reach.

7:50 PM


PSU 79 Illinois 76

After the game, Underwood said everything you would expect him to say - just four days after proclaiming his guys were "playing their best basketball of the season" after the Purdue game. He credited Penn State, lamented the defense for giving up 48 second half points, and said he believes his team has proven they "can go as long and as far as they want to" in the NCAA tournament. I mean what else is he going to say?

I wrote about waiting for this team to put together a full 40 minutes of basketball at least once before the season runs out of time. That wait continues.

None of you care about the Minnesota and Maryland game (Maryland did put an end to the underdog streak), so that about wraps it up from the United Center. Time to drive home in the snow.

I hate Big Ten Tournament Thursday.


Robert on March 10, 2023 @ 12:55 PM

Comment test. Did it work?

phytynlini on March 10, 2023 @ 01:49 PM

Do. Never. Test.

Shemp89 on March 10, 2023 @ 04:24 PM

Totally agree about the DJ and hype stuff being unnecessary at best and annoying at worst. I was in Vegas for those games (oh sweet memory UCLA) and it was the same there, except the DJ was on the lower level between games.

thumpasaurus on March 12, 2023 @ 01:13 PM

But we did bombard him with danger-related song requests until he had no choice (went with Mystikal)

wesd2005 on March 11, 2023 @ 10:56 AM

That was more graupel than snow, or at least it was going south of the UC. Great article. Main reason I like this week better is that we still have next week to look forward to. When next weekend ends it just sucks (unless we make the Sweet 16).

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