It has been a long while, but Illinois has shown it can still field awfully good basketball teams. Now the Fighting Illini would just like some credit.
Picked as the preseason favorite in the Big Ten Conference, the Illini will be playing in their first N.C.A.A. tournament since 2013. But their run in the conference tournament, which they won with overtime victory against Ohio State on Sunday evening, was the work of a team that felt spurned: Illinois has been irate over the winning-percentage model, approved months ago, that gave Michigan the Big Ten’s regular-season championship.
Michigan had played 17 games, while Illinois went through a full 20-game schedule.
“For the first time in my memory (and, truly, maybe for the first time ever), the team that has won the most games — in this case, two more games — is not recognized with even a share of the conference championship,” Josh Whitman, Illinois’s athletic director, wrote in an open letter last week. “This defies logic. It stands counter to the very foundations of competition and sport. For a marquee conference that just concluded arguably the greatest, most competitive season in the history of college basketball, this is an unfortunate and disappointing outcome.”
Unfortunately for other conferences, Illinois may now be looking to take out some frustrations on their teams.
Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu averaged almost 21 points during the regular season and became the second player in the history of the Big Ten to record multiple triple-doubles in conference play. (Perhaps you’ve heard of the other player: Magic Johnson.)
Kofi Cockburn, a sophomore center, has logged 15 double-doubles, among the best in the country. And the bench has players like Andre Curbelo, a freshman from Puerto Rico who averaged nearly 16 points a game late in the regular season. — ALAN BLINDER
No. 2 Houston
If the American Athletic Conference tournament is any indicator of how the Houston Cougars expect to play in the N.C.A.A. championship, then watch out. Houston swept the floor with Cincinnati, taking the title in a 91-54 rout Sunday. The Cougars have the best shooting defense and one of the strongest overall defenses in the league, keeping opponents under a 37.5 field goal percentage on average. — GILLIAN R. BRASSIL
No. 3 West Virginia
West Virginia, 18-9 this season, has lost three of its last four games, but not by much. Eight of its losses have been within five points. And that’s been against top teams; they came close to Baylor in early March and were not far off of Oklahoma State, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, in an early loss in the Big 12 tournament. — GILLIAN R. BRASSIL
No. 12 Oregon State
Oregon State earned its bid on Saturday night by winning the Pac-12 tournament for the first time in program history, even though it had been picked to finish last in the conference when the season began. The last time the Beavers made the N.C.A.A. tournament was in 2016 with Coach Wayne Tinkle, who broke a postseason drought that had dated to 1990.
The Beavers topped the Colorado Buffaloes, 70-68, to secure the automatic bid. — GILLIAN R. BRASSIL
All of the Midwest’s Matchups
No. 1 Illinois (23-6) vs. No. 16 Drexel (12-7)
No. 8 Loyola Chicago (24-4) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech (17-8)
No. 5 Tennessee (18-8) vs. No. 12 Oregon State (17-12)
No. 4 Oklahoma State (20-8) vs. No. 13 Liberty (23-5)
No. 6 San Diego State (23-4) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (16-9)
No. 3 West Virginia (18-9) vs. No. 14 Morehead State (23-7)
No. 7 Clemson (16-7) vs. No. 10 Rutgers (15-11)
No. 2 Houston (24-3) vs. No. 15 Cleveland State (19-7)