ESPN's Joe Lunardi's expertise is "Bracketology," which means he mocks the tourney year round, compulsively. He does this in the offseason, the preseason, through the season and right up to the postseason, each bracket as meaningless as the last.
I relied on Lunardi heavily at selection time in 2010, refreshing the page every 30 minutes or so to see whether Bruce Weber and the boys were in or out. And at crunch time--Joey's final mock bracket before the Selection Show--Lunardi gives Illinois the nod as the final team in the tournament. Then the real selection takes place, everyone's hopes are crushed, and Illinois gets a first round NIT matchup with Stony Brook. On the road. These are things you don't forget, Joe.
But in spite of it all, when I saw the newest bracket come out today, I clicked. I may have even been excited. There's just something so wonderfully aesthetic about a college basketball bracket, and Lunardi feeds the addiction just frequently enough to keep me hooked.
To the shock of no one, Illinois did not make the field. They did not crack the First Four Out or Next Four Out groupings either.
That's what happens when you start the season with low national expectations and drop a game to Georgia Tech. The bracket may have turned out different if the Illini could have pulled out a win against Oregon, but we're not going to embrace what-could-have-beens in December at the whim of Lunardi.
Nobody watched that game thinking the Illini weren't just as good as the Ducks, and realistically, we could have zero losses. Alas, we have two. It happens. Count me in the crowd that thinks this team has a chance this season.
Here's how the rest of the Big Ten fared in Joe Lunardi's conjecture.
- Ohio St. Buckeyes, No. 1 seed
- Wisconsin Badgers, No. 2 seed
- Michigan St. Spartans, No. 2 seed
- Iowa Hawkeyes, No. 6 seed
- Michigan Wolverines, No. 8 seed
- Indiana Hoosiers, No. 10 seed
- Minnesota Golden Gophers, No. 11 seed
Not Dancing: Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
- Oregon Ducks, five-seed
- Missouri Tigers, seven-seed