#6 Illini Aim for Back-to-Back Big Ten Match Play Titles
Feb. 12, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Six years ago, the first Big Ten Match Play Championship was contested with Illinois as the top seed. This year, after finishing second at the 2013 NCAA Championships and putting together the best fall season stroke average in school history in 2013, the sixth-ranked Fighting Illini hold down the top spot in the Big Ten match-play bracket for the sixth-straight year.
The Big Ten Match Play Championships will be contested Friday and Saturday at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., a par-72, 7,177-yard course that will host both the men's and women's NCAA Championships in 2015. Illinois earned its first Big Ten match-play victory last February, rolling through with an undefeated 14-0-1 mark.
"We're going down there to compete and we're going down there to win," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "It's a positive from the standpoint that we're getting to play this time of year in a non-stroke play event but also against teams that we'll see later in the spring. We're going down there to improve and to season our games. We've got our first stroke-play event in two weeks back down at USF, so this is important to lay the groundwork. We're going with the mindset to win but the primary function is to go out and keep getting better."
As the No. 1 seed, Illinois receives a bye into the quarterfinals and will face the winner of Michigan/Michigan State at 11 a.m. Friday. Semifinal matches will tee off at 6 a.m. CT on Saturday, with the championship match set for a noon tee time on Saturday. The three other first-round matches are No. 5 seed Ohio State vs. No. 12 Nebraska, No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State, and No. 6 Indiana vs. No. 11 Wisconsin. The OSU/Nebraska winner will face No. 4 Iowa in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Purdue gets the winner of Minnesota/Penn State, and third-seeded Northwestern takes on the winner between Indiana and Wisconsin.
"We're the only team who's ever been the No. 1 seed but we've only won it once, so that shows how fleeting match play is," Small said. "The first day, we're only going to play one match, which means one guy on our team won't play that first day. It's going to be frustrating for that guy to sit all day, so we'll have to find something for him to do to get some repetitions in. But it will be great to go down and compete against somebody different and build our competitiveness and lay the foundation for the spring."
The matchups were set using the final fall Golfstat rankings as of Dec. 13, 2013, and teams are guaranteed at least three matches. Each team pairing consists of five individual matches that count for one point apiece.
"I don't expect us to be in midseason form in February," Small said. "If we are, great. But I don't expect that. We want to keep building and getting better. Your whole golf game is being built as the spring goes on. Even guys on (the PGA) Tour, in January and February they're still trying to find things and get a rhythm going. This weekend will help build our body of work, and build our minds and our games as we start to progress throughout the spring."
The Orange and Blue won their first Big Ten Match Play title in 2013 after finishing in the top six of the 2012 event that was left unfinished because of darkness. Illinois finished fourth in 2011, fifth in 2010 and fourth in 2009.
The Big Ten Match Play Championships will be filmed by the Big Ten Network and aired as a highlight show on Sunday, March 16.