Initial look shows favorable NCAA tournament road for the Illinois basketball team

The NCAA tournament brackets are out, and the Illinois basketball team has a decent path to get to the promised land.
Mar 17, 2024; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33) plays
Mar 17, 2024; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33) plays / Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team has landed as the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, and so the road to at least the second weekend begins.

Sunday was a great day for Illini fans. Not only did we win the Big Ten Tournament, but we were seeded in the No. 3 slot, which is a great place to be in the NCAA tournament.

But did Illinois get a good draw? What does the trek through the East Region look like for the Orange and Blue?

Well, everything starts in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday. No. 14 seed Morehead State awaits. When I look at the entirety of the East Region, honestly, I really like what I see.

Illinois should be able to handle Morehead State. The second-round matchup would then either be No. 6 BYU or No. 11 Duquesne. Just at an initial glance, this draw in the first two rounds could have been much worse. A trip to the Sweet 16 should be the bare minimum of what we do in the 2024 NCAA tournament.

I am looking down the road too. If Illinois gets by the first two rounds, the next opponent would either be No. 2 Iowa State, No. 7 Washington State, No. 10 Drake, or No. 15 South Dakota State. The Cyclones are easily the best team in that bunch. But we could have run into a better No. 2 seed. Marquette is another No. 2 seed, and we already lost to them this season.

If Illinois advances to the Elite 8, the No. 1 seed in the East Region is UConn. They have a good defense, but their offense is beatable. The other top seeds in the top of the bracket, No. 4 Auburn and No. 5 San Diego State aren’t too scary.

Overall, this is a very favorable region for the Illini. We can do this. We can at least advance to the Sweet 16 and maybe even clinch a Final 4 berth in the coming weeks.

Brad Underwood has Illinois basketball securing top seeds in the NCAA tournament

While we all wait to see what Illinois does in the 2024 NCAA tournament, I think we should acknowledge what Brad Underwood has done for this program.

Before Underwood took over, Illinois had missed four straight NCAA tournaments. We struggled in the first couple of years as he rebuilt, but now the Illini are a top team in the country.

Illinois has now secured a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament in three out of the last four postseasons. The last time that happened was the 2003 through 2006 NCAA tournaments.

I will take it a step further. Illinois now has a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament in two out of the last four postseason. The last time that happened for the program was back in 1988 and 1989. Over 30 years ago.

Underwood has Illinois at the top echelon of the college basketball world. This program will stay up at the top as long as he is leading us. It has been a wild ride that I hope doesn’t end anytime soon.