Illinois Basketball: Illini women continue rise to the top with NCAA tournament berth
This is the first of many articles about the women’s Illinois basketball program making the NCAA tournament.
I didn’t think this would ever happen again after what the Illini have done in the past decade or so. Illinois was a floundering program with no way out. We couldn’t win games, we couldn’t recruit, and the coaching staff was a mess.
After a fifth year of horrendous basketball, Illinois made a switch at head coach. In steps Shauna Green, and immediately, everything changes.
Green took over after a great run with the Dayton Flyers. She didn’t just bring great coaching ability to Champaign, she was able to bring a few transfers into the program as well.
In year one, Green did wonders for the Illinois basketball program. We had an overall record of 22-9 and were 11-7 in the Big Ten. This was an incredible season that also featured the Orange and Blue knocking off then-No. 12 Iowa, which is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and has arguably the best player in college basketball.
The accomplishments for Green in her first year aren’t stopping there, though. It was just revealed on ESPN that Illinois has now made it to the NCAA tournament. The Illini are entering the postseason as a No. 11 seed.
It has been a long time since the women’s Illinois basketball program has seen this type of success
The fact Illinois is dancing in March is something to marvel at. This program was in such bad shape before Green took over as head coach.
In the prior seven seasons before Green, Illinois was 60-142 overall and 12-106 in the Big Ten. Just think about that for a second. Green helped Illinois to 11 Big Ten wins this season alone, which is one shy of how many the program had in the prior seven seasons.
With this postseason berth, Illinois is also breaking a nasty streak of not getting to the NCAA tournament. If you are 19 years old or younger, you weren’t even born the last time Illinois made it to the NCAA tournament. You have to go back to 2003 to find the last time the Illini were dancing, and we were eliminated in the first round.
Not only has the drought for the NCAA tournament been since 2003, but we haven’t even made the NIT since 2013. It is so nice to finally see the Illini back in the postseason.
Illinois’ road won’t be easy, though. The first game features a contest against No. 11 Mississippi State in the play-in. Then, in the first round, we could be playing No. 6 Creighton. If we get past Creighton, then we would likely play No. 3 Notre Dame in the second round. But that honestly doesn’t matter. We are back in the NCAA tournament with a chance to do something special.