ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
RPI (per CBS Sports): 43rd
BIG WINS: Indiana (5th), Gonzaga (10th), Ohio State (14th), Butler (21st), Minnesota (24th)
BIG LOSSES: Iowa (75th), Purdue (116th), Northwestern (164th)
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: lost to #13 Michigan State by 5, lost to Wisconsin by 6
STATS THAT CAN NOT BE IGNORED: 9th toughest schedule in the country, 12-1 against non-conference opponents
WHERE WILL THEY BE SEEDED?
Jerry Palm over at CBS has Illinois as a 9th-seed in the South Region. That might not sound like a bad thing, but it is not the best situation for the Illini. If Palm’s bracket holds out to be true, Illinois would play #9 North Carolina State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The second round game would not be the concern for Illinois. The concern for them would be their third round game. In the third round game, they would most likely play #1 Louisville. If they play like they did against their non-conference opponents or against Indiana, they can beat anyone. Although, consistency has not been Illinois’ strength this season.
As of this writing, Joe Lunardi over at ESPN had not updated his bracketology and the latest version as of March 8th has Illinois as an 8th-seed, but in the East Region. If Lunardi’s bracket holds true, the road for the Illini would be a bit easier. First, they would play the #9 Memphis Tigers in the second round and #1 Duke in the third round. Duke would be an easier opponent to play then the Louisville Cardinals. Duke has been “upset” four times this year. Two of the Blue Devil’s biggest losses came against Maryland and Virginia and where were those games? On the road. If Illinois played Duke on a neutral site, they could upset the Blue Devils.
The common consensus right now is that Illinois makes the tournament as 8th or 9th seed.
The Big Ten conference tournament starts Thursday in Chicago and Illinois is the eighth seed. They play on Thursday at 11 a.m. (CST) and will face the 9th seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers. As of now, Minnesota is ranked 33rd in the country. The Fighting Illini and the Golden Gophers have met twice this season. At home, Illinois lost to Minnesota by 17. On the road, Illinois defeated Minnesota by 5.
If Illinois advances to the quarterfinals, they will play the #2 Indiana Hoosiers for the second time this season. The last time they met was at Illinois and the Illini beat the Hooisers by 2. Personally, I think Indiana would get the best of Illinois the second time, but they call it “March Madness” for a reason.
SCENARIOS and PREDICTION
It is pretty safe to say that Illinois will be in the NCAA Tournament this year. The question is will they be above or below an 8th-seed in this year’s tournament?
If the Fighting Illini win on Thursday, they will be a lock as a 8th-seed in the tournament. If they lose on Thursday, there is a chance that the Illini could fall to a 10th or 11th seed. If Illinois wants to move up above an 8th-seed, they will need to beat Minnesota on Thursday and beat Indiana on Friday.
My prediction? I feel as if Illinois can win against the Golden Gophers on Thursday, but after that it gets tough. The fan in me wants to say they can make it to the semifinals without a problem, but it all depends on how they play this week. I was for certain that Illinois was going to beat Iowa on March 5th. I was wrong and the Hawkeyes upset the Illini.
Ideally, I would love to see Illinois placed in the same region as the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It is looking like the Bulldogs will be a #1 seed in the tournament this year and I believe they will be the first #1 to fall. Illinois already played the Bulldogs earlier this season at Gonzaga and won. If Illinois gets placed in Gonzaga’s region, they should be in pretty good shape if they need to play the #1 seed. However, to quote Kevin Garnett, “anything is possible.”
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