I commonly refer to myself as an eternal optimist and this is no different for the Illini, but seriously what are our chances? I would consider my ability to see silver linings is about equal to how much the NCAA Tournament selection confuses me. So below I will make my own arguments why we can't and then why we can, but please comment so I can say I told you so in a few weeks!
Why We Cannot:
The Illini dropped 8 in row including one of the saddest games I have seen in a while, the 49-43 loss to Northwestern. In that game we shot 28.1% from the field and lost to a then 7-9 NW team, they are now 12-12 but man did that sting and I think it may have led the team into the next 6 losses, short memory boys!
We have not appeared in Joe Lunardi's bracketology since January 9th. I consider him my top resource and I like the weekly updates, although the last few editions have looked worse and worse as the losing streak continued. For a click here is that edition of bracketoloy with Illinois as a 9 seed - http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology/_/iteration/223
In the Penn State game they started two freshman instead of seniors. Sure it resulted in a win but I don't think benching seniors instills a ton of confidence in the rest of the season, regardless of how bright the future looks. Ekey played a bunch, only 7 minutes below his season average, but Bertrand only logged 13 mins which is 16 below his season average. Getting the kids more run should result in ups and downs which will pay off in the future but might not exactly instill a "rush to the tourney" attitude from the upperclassmen. It has been a while since Illinois showed up on the big news feed here on CBS, and the Marcus Smart fallout overshadowed the win, but see below why I think we can and will make national news in the home stretch!
Why We Can
If we started the season 7-0 then why can't we finish with 7 straight? Everyone reading this will immediately say "because we aren't playing Bradley and Valpar next week" but still wins are wins and remember when I mention the whole eternal optimist thing? The thing is, closing at 7-0 will count for a hell of a lot more than the opening as these final 7 before the tournament include 4 ranked teams. Of course 7-0 is not to be expected but grabbing some high quality wins will really help our RPI (currently 68) and seeding in the conference tournament where even more damage can be done.
KENDRICK NUNN - boy who doesn't want to see this kid get more minutes after yesterday? Don't forget he won 4 straight high school titles and was 61st ranked recruit in the nation a year ago. This is basketball, 1 man can take over, just read the top post on this very blog - http://www.thechampaignroom.com/2014/2/9/5396120/illinois-penn-state-kendrick-nunn - the kid has a fanbase inspired and looking to the future but after yesterday lets see if he can give the team a much needed boost down the stretch.
There isn't a lack of opportunity! A bit repetitive but Illinois plays 4 ranked teams before the Big 10 Tourney in Indy. Our RPI is currently a respectively 68 and our strength of schedule is 45, so that won't be an argument against us in a few weeks. Depending on how Illinois finishes, they only check mark against could be the horrid stretch which could be somewhat dismissed if they play to a ranked level between now and selection Sunday.
Here's To Hope!