It has been a long time coming but the wait is over. The Illinois basketball team is back in the NCAA tournament.
Hearing Greg Gumbel’s voice bellow out Illinois’ name is something that I have long missed. It is so nice to be back in the NCAA tournament. You have to go all the way back to 2012-13 to find the last time the Illini went dancing. That is how long we have been waiting.
But we aren’t just sneaking into the NCAA tournament like that 2013 run. This Illini program was selected as a No. 1 seed. They will be taking on Drexel in the Round of 64. This is exciting news and a game I can’t wait to see.
Has Illinois basketball been a No. 1 seed in the past?
The answer is, yes. The 2004-05 campaign was the last time the Illini donned the No. 1 seed. They were the overall No. 1 seed in that tournament as well.
We all know how that run finished. After a miracle victory over Arizona in the Elite 8, the Illini would trounce Louisville en route to the national title. A rough game by our big men against North Carolina resulted in a 75-70 defeat to the Tar Heels. A sad ending to a legendary season.
You don’t have to travel too far back to find the next No. 1 seed. Illinois was the No. 1 seed in 2000-01.
That year, the Illini were rolling through the tournament. They won by double-digits in the first three rounds only to go up against a familiar foe, Arizona, in the Elite 8. Illinois actually played the Wildcats two times in the regular season and split those games. So, the rubber match was in the Elite 8.
Arizona was insanely good that season, though. They would end up taking down the Illini by a score of 87-81. This isn’t a shocking defeat considering Arizona had a number of future NBA players in Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, to name a few.
In 1988-89, the vaunted Flyin’ Illini team also entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Illinois rolled through their first three rounds to get to the Elite 8, where they snuck by Syracuse. Michigan would be waiting in the Final Four, though. The Illini beat the Wolverines twice in the regular season that year, but it is tough to take down a team three times in a row. The Illini would end up falling to Michigan by a score of 83-81.
NCAA began the seeding process in 1979, so that is it for the No. 1 seeds in Illinois history. The current rendition of the Illini has done something only three other teams in program history have done. They are entering the postseason as a No. 1 seed. Let’s do something none of them have done and win the whole dang thing.