Can Illinois, Loyola cut it?

The Illini will need more than Ayo and Kofi to take down the nets. The Ramblers’ offense must match the defense’s success.

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One day until the nets are cut down — snip, snip — at the last of college basketball’s conference tournaments. As usual, the Big Ten’s title game on CBS will lead straight into the network’s 5 p.m. NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

And then the Madness really starts. A whole Big Dance inside an Indianapolis bubble? That’s the plan. The usual round-by-round schedule? Nope. How do first-round games on a Saturday sound? Second-round games on a Monday? Elite Eight games on a Tuesday? You get the idea.

Sixteen days before the first regional champion climbs the ladder — snip, snip — into the Final Four.

Twenty-two days until somebody — Illinois? Loyola? — wins the whole thing, the national championship.

Or, as the youngsters might put it, ’ship, ’ship.

ILLINOIS

21-6; projected seed: 1

They’ll snip if … big man Kofi Cockburn stays out of foul trouble and MVP Ayo Dosunmu gets aggressive early and closes — as he’s so adept at doing — late. But even those things alone won’t cut it if the Illini don’t bury open threes (lookin’ at you, Trent Frazier and Adam Miller) and shake opponents to their cores with defensive intensity.

They’ll trip if … Big Ten officiating — a real joke — sets them up for failure as it has many a physical, in-your-grill league power. Refs don’t swallow their whistles in the NCAAs, and it can be frustrating and unnerving for players who are used to getting away with lots of contact.

We’ll flip if … coach Brad Underwood doesn’t have at least a few chances to rush into the locker room after the game and erupt like a volcano of good vibes while his players go nuts around him. Hit a few free throws just to be on the safe side, will you, Kofi?

LOYOLA

24-4; projected seed: 8

They’ll snip if … the players around slick-passing center Cameron Krutwig cash in from the perimeter (Lucas Williamson, Braden Norris) and finish at the rim (Aher Uguak) with the efficiency of a Swiss watch. We know the Ramblers will bring it at the defensive end and control the pace of games because that’s just who they are.

They’ll trip if … clutch shots aren’t in their holsters like they were in 2018. The dream dies in Round 1 that year if Donte Ingram doesn’t hit a three at the buzzer against Miami, and in Round 2 if Clayton Custer’s jumper doesn’t bounce high off the rim and in against Tennessee.

We’ll flip if … the Ramblers get back to the Sweet 16. Not that they aren’t as good as the 2018 squad — they are — but that group didn’t have to beat a No. 1 seed, a giant test that could be awaiting this group if it wins its opening game.

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