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NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament Preview: #9 Illinois vs Marquette

It’s the first ever NCAA tournament appearance for the Golden Eagles, and Illinois is nice enough to provide streaming video.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri vs Illinois Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

2018 NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament First Round

#9 Illinois Fighting Illini vs Marquette Golden Eagles

Date: Saturday, May 12, 2018
Time: 3pm Central, or following the conclusion of Vanderbilt/Drake
Location: Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, Champaign, IL
Streaming: FightingIllini.com has individual streams for each court.
Live Stats: Sidearm Sports via FightingIllini.com
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMTEN

The results of Saturday’s dual contest in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Illinois just do not matter. Sure, if Marquette wins, it will be probably the biggest win in program history. It’s MU’s first ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, and perhaps more importantly, MU got here by winning the Big East tournament after finishing as the runner-up in each of the previous three seasons. Breaking through to the national championship tournament is a bit of an accomplishment all on its own.

Marquette played their way into the NCAA field by way of superb individual play in the Big East tournament. They dropped the doubles point in each of their three conference tourney matches, but rallied to secure the win in singles. Twice, including in the title match against DePaul, Marquette jumped out and grabbed the first four singles points to end the encounter as fast as they possibly could. The Golden Eagles were propelled by 3-0 marks in the tournament by both #1 singles player and Big East Player of the Year Alvaro Verdu and #6 player Brandon Shanklin.

Illinois may be the #9 national seed in the tournament, but they got there by way of an at-large berth. The #2 seeded Illini lost 4-0 to top seeded Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. That wasn’t a surprising loss for Illinois, as their dual meet in Columbus earlier in the season finished with the same result, and it was Illinois’ only Big Ten dual loss of the season.

Presuming that Illinois keeps their lineup the same from the Big Ten final loss to Ohio State, Marquette is going to have a steep hill to climb to beat Illinois, although I guess that was kind of obvious from the #9 seeding. Both #4 player Zeke Clark (11 straight) and #5 player Aleks Kovacevic (nine straight) are riding singles play winning streaks right now, although that is slightly misleading. Both of their matches in the Big Ten final were against nationally ranked foes, but both went unfinished as the top three matches had already finished in favor of Ohio State. I’m not saying it’s not impressive to win that many matches in a row, I’m saying it’s a little easier when your matches go unfinished sometimes. Senior Aleks Vukic is Illinois’ #1 guy and one of the best players in the country. He’ll have history on his mind on Saturday, as he looks to break a tie for the 11th most singles victories in Illinois history.