Illinois basketball all-time Sweet 16 history

The Sweet 16 is just days away, and the Illinois basketball team gets a chance to compete for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs University of Arizona Wildcats
Illinois Fighting Illini vs University of Arizona Wildcats / Tom Hauck/GettyImages

The most recent installment of the Illinois basketball team playing in the Sweet 16 will take place on Thursday.

It has been a long time since the Illini have played in the Sweet 16. The last time this happened was nearly 20 years ago. The program has changed dramatically since then.

Illinois is poised to make a deep run in the 2024 NCAA tournament, though. The Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday, as the Illini take on No. 2 Iowa State at roughly 9:20 p.m. CT on TBS/TruTV.

Here is the Illinois basketball all-time Sweet 16 history

No. 3 Illinois basketball vs. No. 2 Iowa State – March 28, 2024


No. 1 Illinois basketball 77 vs. No. 12 Milwaukee 63 – March 24, 2005

Illinois had a magical run to the national championship in 2005. We entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed and kind of struggled against No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. The same could be said for the second round against No. 9 Nevada. Thankfully, Illinois won both games, which set up a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 12 Milwaukee. Illinois came alive in this game, taking a seven-point halftime lead and expanding on it. The Illini ended up beating the Panthers, 77-63.

No. 5 Illinois basketball 62 vs. No. 1 Duke 72 – March 26, 2004

This was the year before the year. Illinois’ young talent was starting to mature, but they weren’t quite there yet. As a No. 5 seed, Illinois played well in the first two rounds, winning by double-digit points. A loaded No. 1 Duke team was our Sweet 16 opponent, though. They had six future NBA players and a roster that had eight top-30 recruits. We held our own, only down 31-30 at halftime. Duke was just too much, though. The Blue Devils wielded their power and beat Illinois, 72-62.

No. 4 Illinois basketball 69 vs. No. 1 Kansas 73 – March 22, 2002

Illinois had a talented team in 2002. This was a building program, and we had been to great heights the year before. The Illini earned the No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. We beat No. 13 San Diego State and No. 12 Creighton by double-digits in the first two rounds. No. 1 Kansas awaited in the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks were a year more experienced than the previous season, but this was a great matchup. Kansas had the lead at halftime by six points, but Illinois kept the game close throughout. Sadly, the Illini fell just short, 73-69.

No. 1 Illinois basketball 80 vs. No. 4 Kansas 64 – March 23, 2001

It had been over a decade since Illinois made the Sweet 16. In 2001, the Illini put together one of the best teams I have ever seen in Champaign. Illinois entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed and swept through No. 16 Northwestern State and No. 9 Charlotte with ease. No. 4 Kansas was the opponent in the Sweet 16. That was a really good Kansas team, but Illinois dismantled the Jayhawks. We had a double-digit lead at halftime and increased that lead in the second half. Illinois ended up beating Kansas, 80-64.

No. 1 Illinois basketball 83 vs. No. 4 Louisville 69 – March 24, 1989

A magical run happened for the Illini in 1989. We earned the No. 1 seed and managed to sneak by in the first two rounds with wins over No. 16 McNeese State by six points and No. 9 Ball State by 12 points. This set up a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 Louisville. Illinois had a three-point lead at halftime, and that margin only increased in the second half. A high-powered Illini squad beat down the Cardinals, 83-69.

No. 3 Illinois basketball 53 vs. No. 2 Georgia Tech 61 – March 21, 1985

Another NCAA tournament expansion took place in 1985. There were now 64 teams in the postseason. Illinois had a great year, and we made the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed. The first two rounds were double-digit wins, which led us to a game against No. 2 Georgia Tech. We fought the Yellow Jackets tough. The score was tied at 29 at halftime, but Georgia Tech’s defense held Illinois to just 24 points in the second half. The Yellow Jackets won the game, 61-53.

No. 2 Illinois basketball 72 vs. No. 3 Maryland 70 – March 22, 1984

The mid-1980s were one of the heydays for the Illinois basketball program. The Illini made the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed in 1984. We took down No. 7 Villanova in the first round. Future Big Ten foe Maryland awaited in the Sweet 16, though. The Terrapins snagged a two-point lead at the half. Illinois continued to fight, and by the end of the game, the Illini outscored Maryland, 72-70.

No. 4 Illinois basketball 52 vs. No. 8 Kansas State 57 – March 19, 1981

It took a minute for Lou Henson to get his program right, but Illinois was full steam ahead by 1980-81. The NCAA tournament had expanded to 32 teams in 1975, so the Illini made the postseason as a No. 4 seed. Illinois advanced out of the first round by beating No. 5 Wyoming, which set up a date with No. 8 Kansas State. The Wildcats got out to an early lead, and Illinois couldn’t recover. A three-point halftime lead for Kansas State turned into a 57-52 victory over the Illini.

NR Illinois basketball 70 vs. NR Bowling Green State 67 – March 15, 1963

It had been 11 years since Illinois made the NCAA tournament, but the Orange and Blue were back in it once again in 1963. This would be the only trip to the postseason for Illinois in the 1960s, but they made the most of it. The teams weren’t seeded yet, but Illinois took on Bowling Green State in the first round. The Falcons got out to a two-point halftime lead. Illinois outscored Bowling Green State by five points in the second half to win the game, 70-67.

NR Illinois basketball 80 vs. NR Dayton 61 – March 21, 1952

Illinois made an appearance in the 1952 NCAA tournament. Teams weren’t seeded yet, but the Illini were one of the best teams in the country that year. Since only 16 teams made the postseason, Illinois’ first-round game was against Dayton. We were down by one point at halftime, but Illinois beat the Flyers by 20 points in the second half to win the game, 80-61.

NR Illinois basketball 79 vs. NR Columbia 71 – March 20, 1951

In the first year there were 16 teams, Illinois made the NCAA tournament. They hadn’t seeded teams yet, so there were no seeds for each program, but the Illini took on Columbia in the first round. The Lions snagged a seven-point halftime lead, 45-38, but Illinois stormed back and won the game 79-71.

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