Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded Michigan Wolverines play their first game of the 2014 Big Ten Conference Tournament on Friday, as they face the ninth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini in quarterfinal-round action from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The winner will advance to the semifinals where it will face the victor in the Ohio State/Nebraska matchup being played later this afternoon.
Illinois took down No. 8 seed Indiana in the first round on Thursday, 64-54, inching closer to 20 total wins on the season (19-13), while improving its all-time record in the tournament to 25-14, leaving it just a few wins shy of Ohio State's league-leading 28 victories. The Illini, who have a pair of Big Ten tourney titles to their credit (2003, 2005), won their second straight game and fifth in their last six outings overall yesterday.
Michigan is the No. 1 seed in this tourney. as the Wolverines enjoyed an impressive run to their first outright regular-season Big Ten title in nearly three decades. The Wolverines own records of 23-7 overall and 15-3 in conference, and they come into this contest riding a five-game win streak.
Illinois owns an 85-77 lead in the all-time series with Michigan, but the Wolverines won the only meeting during the regular season (84-53 in Champaign on March 4), and have won the last six encounters overall.
Tracy Abrams scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds to go with two assists, two steals and a blocked shot in leading Illinois to its win in Thursday's first-round battle with Indiana. Nnanna Egwu was a force defensively, equaling his career-high and setting an Illini Big Ten Tournament record with five blocked shots. He also pulled down seven rebounds. Rayvonte Rice, UI's leading scorer on the season, added 13 points and Kendrick Nunn (10 points) rounded out the squad's double-digit scorers. Illinois took advantage of 16 Indiana turnovers, while allowing the Hoosiers just 35.3 percent success on their field goal attempts.
The Wolverines boast several standout performers, although according to both the league's coaches and the media, Nik Stauskas was the best in the conference as he was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. Stauskas finished the regular season averaging 17.0 ppg, doing terrific work from long range (.447), as well as the charity stripe (.822). In fact, the whole team was successful at the foul line, converting a league-best 76.3 percent of its chances. Stauskas gets support from double-digit scorers Caris LeVert (13.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Glenn Robinson III (12.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), and they all have the confidence of the media's pick for conference Coach of the Year, John Beilein.