The daily pitch from Sports Editor Matt Daniels: Feb. 28, 2024

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Sports Editor Matt Daniels with a look at what's going on around the area:

Three reasons we love sports today

➜ when the two Big Ten teams tip off inside State Farm Center in Champaign at 8 tonight.

➜ 2. Appreciate Illini football executive director of personnel and recruiting Pat Embleton for stopping by the Esquire for 'Monday Night SportsTalk,' this week. Read more about his role and his long stay with the Illinois football program in Bob Asmussen's latest column at

➜ 3. The latest bracketology update by Joe Lunardi of ESPN released on Tuesday has Illinois men's basketball as a No. 4 seed, with a first-round game in Spokane, Wash., against 13th-seeded Akron. Yes, the Zips are led by former Illini coach John Groce.

Numbers game: 2,208

Career points by Elyce Knudsen. The former Unity girls' basketball standout and 2020 News-Gazette Player of the Year is the all-time leading scorer with the Millikin women's basketball program, and the 5-foot-8 senior guard from Philo embarks upon the NCAA Division III national tournament later this week when the Big Blue (22-5) plays Willamette (17-9) out of Oregon in a first-round game at 5:15 p.m. Friday in Whitewater, Wis.

Crowd control

Three events I'm paying attention to

➜ 1. Minnesota at Illinois men's basketball. A chance to ensure a double bye in the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis happens for the Illini means Brad Underwood's program can't lose a home game to the Big Ten team from Minneapolis.

➜ 2. Illinois at Michigan State women's basketball. Michigan State (20-7) is a likely NCAA tournament team, and the Illini (13-13) can help their Big Ten tournament seed with an upset Thursday night.

➜ 3. Tuscola vs. Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran boys' basketball. An opportunity to play in the Sweet 16 for the third straight season is here for Tuscola, which tips off against the Silver Stallions (great nickname) at 6 tonight in Effingham.

Coach's corner

Three questions with Illinois football coach Bret Bielema. Bielema begins his fourth season in charge of the Illini on Aug. 31 when Illinois hosts Eastern Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign and will have a record six Illini at the NFL Combine this week in Indianapolis.

➜ 1. My favorite sports team is ... Illinois.

➜ 2. Three coaches I'd like to have dinner with are ... Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and John Wooden.

➜ 3. My biggest pet peeve is ... inconsistency.