NCAA First Round 1:15 PM: Big Ten champion Illinois vs. Drexel

March 18, 2021

Illini make first NCAA appearance since 2013 on Friday

1 ILLINOIS (23-6, 16-4 B1G) at the NCAA Tournament
NCAA TournamentIllini Tournament Central | NCAA Tournament Central 
First Roundvs. 16 Drexel (12-7, 4-5 Colonial)
Date | TimeFriday, March 19, 2021 | 12:15 p.m. CT (1:15 p.m. ET)
LocationIndianapolis, Ind. | Indiana Farmers Coliseum
TelevisionTBS (Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner & Dana Jacobson)
Live | NCAA March Madness Live App
Radio Busey Bank Illini Sports Network | TuneIn | Sirius (Ch 136) XM (Ch. 203)
Printable NotesIllinois | Drexel
StatsIllinois | Drexel | Big Ten
Social Media@IlliniMBB  | #Illini  | @IlliniMBB 129943 | Facebook  | YouTube 


Career Record: 179-82 (.686), 8th year
At Illinois: 70-55 (.560), 4th year
NCAA Tournament at Illinois: First appearance
NCAA Tournament, Career: Fifth appearance (2-4)


Appearances: 31st
Record: 40-31
Final Fours: 5


Record: First meeting
Underwood vs. Drexel: First meeting


• Illinois is making its 31st all-time appearance in the NCAA?Tournament, and first since 2013. 

• Illinois ranks fifth among Big Ten teams and 22nd among all NCAA schools for most Tournament appearances.

• Illinois has earned a #1 seed for the fourth time in NCAA Tournament history: 1989, 2001, 2005, 2021.

• Illinois and Michigan gives the Big Ten two #1 seeds for the first time in 20 years, since Illinois and Michigan State both earned #1 seeds in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

• Illinois has compiled a 40-31 (.563) record all-time in NCAA?Tournament games. 

• Illinois’ 40 NCAA Tournament wins ranks 23rd among all schools.

• Illinois enters the weekend aiming to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, when it went on to play in the national championship game.    

• Illinois has the third-most NCAA Tournament wins among teams yet to win a national championship, trailing Oklahoma and Purdue (42 apiece).

• Since 1975, when the field was increased to 32 teams, Illinois has advanced to the Sweet 16 eight times, the Elite Eight four times, and the Final Four twice. 

• Illinois has made five appearances in the NCAA Final Four, finishing as the national runner-up in 2005, placing third in 1949, 1951 and 1952, and tying for third in 1989.

• Illinois has the most Final Four appearances among teams yet to win a national title, tied with Houston and Oklahoma. 

• Head Coach Brad Underwood has brought Fighting Illini Basketball back to being a national contender. His rebuild of the program brought success in year three of his tenure, leading the Illini to a top-25 finish and what would have been an NCAA Tournament appearance before the postseason was canceled due to COVID-19. He has now directed the Orange and Blue to a #1 seed in year four as Illinois makes its return to March Madness for the first time since 2013. 

• While Underwood is making his first NCAA Tournament appearance with Illinois, it is his fifth trip to the big dance with his third program in eight seasons as a Div. I head coach. He led Stephen F. Austin to three consecutive appearances from 2014-2016, advancing to the Round of 32 in 2014 and 2016. He also took Oklahoma State to the Tournament in his lone season in Stillwater in 2017. Underwood owns a 2-4 career record in the NCAA Tournament. 

• Illinois earned a #1 seed after recording 12 Quad 1 wins, and a combined 17 Quad 1 and 2 wins, leading the nation in both categories.

• Illinois is a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time, owning an all-time record of 12-3 as a #1.

• Illinois is 22-8 when playing its opening game of the NCAA Tournament. 

• Illinois is 29-14 as a higher (better) seed in the NCAA Tournament.

• Illinois is playing in Indianapolis in the NCAA?Tournament for the fourth time, and first since 2005. The Illini are 5-1 all-time in the NCAAs in Indianapolis (all previous games played at the RCA Dome).

• Illinois played a total of 16 games against 11 teams that made this year’s NCAA?Tournament, compiling a record of 10-6.

• There are nine Big Ten teams participating in this year’s NCAA Tournament: Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin. 

• Nine bids is the most ever for the Big Ten and the second-most for any conference, trailing only the 2011 Big East (11). 


• Winners of seven straight and 14 of its last 15, Illinois is ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll of the 2021 season.

• This is the seventh time in school history that Illinois is in the top 5 of the final AP poll, and first time since 2005, when the Illini finished the season at No. 1.

• Illinois is fresh off winning the 2021 Big Ten Tournament championship, the program’s third conference tournament title and first since 2005. 

• Illinois has won 23 games, tallying the 34th 20-win season in school history. Following last year’s 21-win shortened season, Illinois has back-to-back 20-win campaigns for the first time since 2013 (23) and 2014 (20).

• Illinois won 19 games against Big Ten teams; 16 during the regular season and three in the conference tournament. That equals the second-most wins ever against Big Ten competition in a single-season.

• Five of Illinois’ last six wins have been against ranked opponents, including four against top-10 foes. 

• The Illini defeated No. 5 Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and No. 9 Ohio State in the championship game, registering back-to-back wins over top-10 teams for the second time in two weeks. In the final week of the regular season the Illini won at No. 2 Michigan and at No. 7 Ohio State.

• Illinois went 16-4 in conference play, the winningest Big Ten season in school history. The previous UI record of 15 league victories was set in 1984 (15-3, co-champions) and equaled in 2005 (15-1, champions).

• Illinois won its last three regular season games, all on the road over an 8-day span against teams ranked in the top 10 in kenpom at Wisconsin (10), at Michigan (2) and at Ohio State (7). 

• The victories at No. 2 Michigan and at No. 7 Ohio State were Illinois’ first against top-10 teams in back-to-back games since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, when the No. 1-ranked Illini defeated No. 9 Arizona in the Elite Eight and No. 4 Louisville in the Final Four.

• Illinois is No. 3 in kenpom adjust efficiency margin (30.61), the second-highest rating in program history behind the 2005 NCAA runner-up squad (2nd). 

• Illinois is one of only three teams ranked in the top 10 in both offensive (7th) and defensive (5th) efficiency by kenpom, joined by Gonzaga and Michigan.

• Illinois won nine road games, most among high-major conference teams and tied for fourth-most in the NCAA.

• The Illini have recorded a total of nine top-10 wins the last three years under Coach Underwood, including an active streak of six straight this season with five of those six coming away from home.

• Illinois’ six top-10 wins is a school record, breaking the previous single-season mark of five set by the 1989 Flyin’ Illini. 

• Leading the Illini is Ayo Dosunmu. Owning numbers of 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game, Dosunmu is racking up First-Team All-America accolades and contending for National Player of the Year as well. He is the only player in the NCAA over the last 11 seasons to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists, all while leading Illinois Basketball back among the nation’s elite.

• Dosunmu is on pace to become just the second Big Ten player since 1993 to average 20 points, six rebounds and five assists, joining Ohio State’s Evan Turner, the National Player of the Year in 2009-10.

• Dosunmu earned Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament, averaging 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists over the three wins while leading Illinois to the championship. 

• Dosunmu is the USA Today National Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Trophy Finalist, Cousy Award Finalist, Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award Semifinalist, the first-ever First-Team AP All-American in school history, and also a First-Team All-American by the NABC, USBWA, Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.

• Dosunmu recorded two triple doubles last month (vs. Wisconsin and at Minnesota), joining Michigan State’s Magic Johnson as the only two players in Big Ten history with multiple triple doubles in league play.

• A unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection, Dosunmu is the league’s second-leading scorer while also ranking second in the conference in assists. 

• Dosunmu has scored in double figures in 41 straight games, the longest active streak in the NCAA.

• Kofi Cockburn ranks second in the NCAA with 16 double-doubles this season. He posted double-doubles in 12 Big Ten games, averaging 18.6 points and 9.9 rebounds during league play.

• Cockburn ranks fourth in the NCAA in field goal percentage at 65.6% and leads the nation with 71 dunks.

• Cockburn is the only player in the nation averaging at least 15 points and nine rebounds on 65% shooting.

• Cockburn is contending for consensus All-America accolades alongside Dosunmu, earning Second-Team distinction by the NABC, USBWA, Associated Press, Sporting News and USA Today and Third-Team by Sports Illustrated. He also is one of 15 players listed on the Wooden Award National Ballot. 

• Cockburn excelled in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal match-up with conference Player of the Year Luka Garza of Iowa. Cockburn scored a game-high 26 on 11-17 FG, his second-highest point total of the season and earning his seventh kenpom game MVP award. Garza, meanwhile, took 21 shots to reach 21 points. 

• Cockburn‘s season-rebounding average has recently dipped under 10. At 17.6 ppg and 9.6 rpg, Cockburn is vying to become the first Illini player since Nick Weatherspoon in 1973 (25.0 ppg, 12.3 rpg) to average a double-double for an entire season.

• Dosunmu and Cockburn are combining for 38.3 points per game, the seventh-highest scoring duo nationally, and third among the high-major conferences. 

• Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection Trent Frazier has also seen his scoring increase recently, averaging 12.3 points (185) and shooting 36.1% from 3-point range (30-83) while making an average of 2.0 treys over the last 15 games. He has scored in double figures in eight of those 15 games, with three performances of 20+ points.

• Freshman Andre Curbelo ranked third inthe Big Ten in assists during league play at 4.5 apg. He is averaging 4.0 assists on the season, standing sixth on the school’s all-time freshman assists chart behind legendary Illini point guards Bruce Douglas, Derek Harper, Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Frank Williams.

• Curbelo has scored in double figures in six of the last seven gamesaveraging 14.0 points (98) and 6.4 rebounds (45). 

• Curbelo is the third-leading freshman scorer in the Big Ten, averaging 9.1 points, while Adam Miller is the Big Ten’s No. 6 freshman scorer at 8.2 ppg.


Illinois’ stay in Indianapolis began with a mission to cut down the nets at the Big Ten Tournament, and that goal was accomplished. The Illini blew out Rutgers in the quarterfinal, had a thrilling win over No. 5 Iowa in the semifinal, and won the trophy in a heavyweight battle against No. 9 Ohio State that took overtime to determine the champion.

Illinois claimed its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2005, and third all-time. 

The three wins in three days extended Illinois’ winning streak to seven in a row, with the last six coming against NCAA Tournament teams. It also solidified Illinois as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, moving the Illini to third overall on the S-curve.

Ayo Dosunmu was named Most Outstanding Player, averaging 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Kofi Cockburn also earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team, averaging 20.0 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 61.1% on the weekend. 

» Complete Illinois Game Notes (PDF)