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Updated: March 10th, 2013 1:43pm
Gophers to face Illinois in opening round of Big Ten tournament

Gophers to face Illinois in opening round of Big Ten tournament

by Nate Sandell
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The Big Ten regular season brought another humbling fall from grace for the Gophers men's basketball team.

After a lopsided defeat at Purdue on Saturday dropped them to a 8-10 conference record, the once-No. 8 ranked Gophers (20-11) have been locked into the ninth seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament (March 14-17).

As a result, the Gophers will face eight-seed Illinois (21-11, 8-10) in the tournament's opening round at 11 a.m. Thursday at the United Center in Chicago.

After a 15-1 start, including an impressive 3-0 mark to open conference play, the Gophers went on to lose 10 of their final 15 games to finish with their third consecutive sub .500 conference record, and sixth in the last eight seasons.

Despite signature victories against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Gophers' Big Ten season has been marred by several blowout losses and eight straight road defeats.

The Gophers will be meeting Illinois for the third time this season, and first time in the tournament since 2008, when they were ousted by the Illini in the semi-finals. The two teams split their season series, with the Gophers defeating Illinois at Assembly Hall for their only conference road victory before losing 57-53 at Williams Arena on Feb 10.

Illinois, Purdue and the Gophers all finished with 8-10 Big Ten records, but Purdue jumped to the seventh spot in the tournament on the basis of tiebreakers.

The No. 8 and No. 9 match-up puts both the Gophers and the Illini in a difficult spot, with a potential second round match-up with No. 1 seed Indiana awaiting Thursday's winner.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell