The Fighting Illini will kick off their NIT journey against Boston U on Wednesday night at 6pm on ESPN 2 continuing this roller coaster of a season. An NCAA berth was the expectation of this team before this season started. By the time the conference schedule came into play, most of us were thinking of a possible higher seed in the NCAA bracket.
January arrived and left bringing along with it a polar vortex as well as the longest losing streak an Illinois basketball team has seen in 40 years. Then, in typical late season John Groce fashion, the team decided to show signs of hope. After winning five of six to end the season and begin the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois lost a heart breaker to Michigan bringing any possibility of an NCAA tourney birth to an end.
Before we briefly glance at the Illini's seed and matchup in the NIT, many Illlinois fans seem to be having trouble getting over the last minute of the loss to Michigan. Everyone, please realize that John Groce's decision to switch back to man-to-man on defense and the missed runner by Tracy Abrams are not the reasons why this team isn't playing in the NCAA Tournament this year. If you're looking to blame anything, blame the month of the January. A win over Northwestern or Purdue would have likely put Illinois on the bubble. A win over both, and we're all probably celebrating a 10 seed out West.
Let's move on.
Illinois, as a 2 seed, will face the seventh seeded Terriers of Boston University on their home court this Wednesday night. What should Illinois expect from the regular season champs of the Patriot League? Well, based on their showing in the conference tournament final, not a lot of scoring. American held the Terriers to 36 points. A battle tested Illini defense should be able to hold their own in this game, but more analysis on this matchup will come out shortly.
In the meantime, good luck filling out your brackets. One billion dollars is at stake.
G - O Illini GO!