No. 4 Illinois hoping for Ayo Dosunmu’s return at No. 2 Michigan

NCAA Basketball

Illinois has proved it can win without the player coach Brad Underwood believes is the best in college basketball.

Still, the No. 4 Fighting Illini (18-6, 14-4 Big Ten) surely would like to have Ayo Dosunmu back in action for Tuesday’s powerhouse matchup with No. 2 Michigan (18-1, 13-1).

Dosunmu missed the past two games with a broken nose and it’s uncertain whether he’ll return for the showdown in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Illinois recorded a 16-point home victory over last-place Nebraska on Thursday, then held off No. 23 Wisconsin 74-69 for a road win on Saturday.

“It shows we’ve got really good players who have a lot of character, who have a lot of ability, that have stepped up in adverse situations,” Underwood said. “To be very honest, I couldn’t be prouder. They’re gritty, they’re tough. To do it without Ayo, the best player in college basketball, and have guys step into new roles. … I’m just as proud as anybody could be.”

Dosunmu is averaging 21.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for Illinois, which sits in second place in the Big Ten. The Wolverines can clinch the regular-season conference championship with a victory on Tuesday.

The teams originally were scheduled to meet on Feb. 11 but the game was postponed due to coronavirus issues at the Ann Arbor campus.

Illinois also had a makeup game last week against Michigan State, a loss in which Dosunmu suffered his injury.

“It’s not our fault the games that got (postponed) were road games but we’re going to honor those (commitments) because we’re a member of this league,” Underwood said. “It’s about character and this team has a ton of it.”

Illinois’ top post player, Kofi Cockburn, has filled in as the top scoring option in Dosunmu’s absence. Cockburn had 24 points against the Cornhuskers and 19 against the Badgers. Guard Andre Curbelo contributed 17 points and seven rebounds on Saturday.

Cockburn will be matched up against one of the top freshmen in the country in Hunter Dickinson. In Michigan’s 73-57 road victory over Indiana on Saturday, Dickinson had 13 points and seven rebounds.

The forward combination of Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers combined for 37 points and 16 rebounds.

“Franz is playing extremely well. He’s locked in,” coach Juwan Howard said. “It’s no surprise, he was playing extremely well before the (virus-related) break. All our guys are.”

Since the Wolverines’ lone loss to Minnesota in mid-January, Livers has scored 16 or more points in five of the past seven games. He’s also had two double-digit rebounding efforts, including Saturday’s win.

“Isaiah is not just a 3-point shooter,” Howard said. “He’s a guy that’s shown that he’s a skillful guy that can do many things with the basketball, whether it’s driving to make a play for himself or for others. Knocking down open shots. Rebounding. Defending. He’s what a two-way player is all about.”

The Wolverines currently are projected to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they won’t have any difficulty getting motivated for the final week of the regular season. They close out the week with a pair of games against in-state rival Michigan State.

Howard continues to be impressed with his team’s maturity.

“They act like they’re professional, in a sense,” Howard said.

–Field Level Media

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