Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball: 2014 NIT Champions!!


Mar 14, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce looks towards a referee after a call in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Fighting Illini missed out on the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but they found a nice home as a two seed in the NIT Tournament.  Now I understand that it is always better to be at the adult table for dinner.  The kids table usually tends to get overlooked and messy.  Nobody is picking their nose at the adult table.  Your cousin Johnny isn’t going on and on and on about how cool Digimon is.  Knock it off, Johnny.  Digimon are just second rate Pokemon and aren’t nearly as cool.

This team is young.  This team could use the practices and extra games.  In addition, if you look at recent teams that have won the NIT championship, or even fared well in the tournament, you see several teams that saw an immediate impact in their following season.

The Illini have a tough journey, but a path, to win the 2014 NIT Championship.  When filling out my bracket Sunday evening, because this is the only tournament that matters to me now, I picked Illinois to win it all without bias.

Knowing that Illinois can not play a home game throughout this tournament is a bit of a let down, as I feel the Krush would have been rocking the first two rounds of this tournament.

Let’s take a look at the path I have that leads the Illini, my Illini, to Madison Square Garden where I think they will hoist the championship trophy.

In game one, Illinois heads to Boston University to play the Terriers in what could be a game many fans overlook.  Boston averages a bit over 70 points per game, and shoots right around 45% from the field.  Illinois will need to continue its defensive efforts that we have seen as of late in order to win this game.  Make no mistake, Boston University will be loud and proud on Wednesday.  We will need to play hard nosed basketball that is similar to how we finished the season.  Illinois wins the first game of their road to glory with a final score of 74-65, setting up a second round game with upset winner Georgia State, our third game this season in the Atlanta area.

Georgia State will upset Clemson in the first round, showing that the 17-1 record in the Sun Belt the put up was no fluke, as well as the fact I expect Clemson to come out flat in round one.  Georgia State is another good shooting team, as they shoot over 47% from the field.  These two teams match up pretty evenly on the defensive side of the ball statistic wise, so the big difference could come in shooting.  If the Illini are making smart shots and driving the ball to the lane, they could be difficult for Georgia State to contain.  This game will be closer and a bit lower scoring, but the Illini take the W in Atlanta, 64-60.

Saint John’s will march to the quarterfinals with wins over Robert Morris, the little guy who slayed Kentucky last season, and Green Bay en route to a matchup with the Fighting Illini.  The key to this game may just be getting St. John’s to the free throw line, as the team shoots under 70% from the charity stripe.  Averaging eight blocks per game, this team is tough to go up against inside against, and could spell trouble for Nana down low.  Illinois will squeak out a win here, stopping a last second comeback from St. Johns, winning 62-60 and punching their ticket to Madison Square Garden and a date with the snubbed squad of SMU.

Southern Methodist University was a major snub, but the strength of schedule was just far too weak to get an at large bid from the NCAA selection committee.  The Mustangs are well coached by Larry Brown and can get up and down with almost any team out there, but at times struggle to close out games.  That being said, the Illini have been able to find ways to come back in games when the opponent is letting up, which may bode well for this squad.  Illinois has been able to find ways to win games lately, with their only two losses in their last seven coming from potential National Champion Michigan.  I can see this game going either way, but I think the Illini make a huge splash here, winning in stunning fashion 72-58.

The time has come.  It’s the 2014 NIT Championship, and the Fighting Illini are squaring off against the Missouri Tigers, a team they have previously defeated, hoping to take cut down the nets in a what would be a great boost for a fan base.  Missouri has been on a bit of an up and down cycle, yet found ways to win games against St Mary’s and West Virginia to make it to the championship against a bitter rival.  Both of these teams just seem to play better against each other, which should make for an entertaining game.  Illinois continues its great play against Mizzou, however, shutting down Brown and Clarkson, and giving Coach Groce and the Illinois fans something to be proud of, winning 72-71 and taking home the championship.

This may not happen.  Illinois may lose to Boston University by 100.  This is how I can see it all playing out.  Let me know if you have any other predictions or projections, and as always, GO ILLINI!