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NCAA Tournament Bracketology: Illinois downgraded to Joe Lunardi’s ‘First Four Out’

The Orange and Blue dropped out of ESPN’s projected field on Tuesday night.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

We’re nearing the halfway point of the college basketball calendar, and although there are still numerous opportunities for teams to improve their NCAA Tournament resumes, it’s about time to start paying attention to bracket projections. Illinois figures to have a stressful path towards Selection Sunday given their whirlwind start to the season, but where exactly do the Orange and Blue stand at the moment?

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the hot-and-cold Fighting Illini are on pace to narrowly miss the field of 68 teams. The bracketologist’s latest projections have Illinois listed in the ‘First Four Out’ category along with Texas A&M, Temple, and Wake Forest. Even so, Illinois was previously considered as a ‘Last Four In’ candidate (tweet below) prior to the games played on Tuesday night.

Lunardi’s up-to-date bracket has a total of 9 Big Ten teams making the field, which is fairly surprising given the relative weakness of the conference this Winter. The league doesn’t exactly have any ‘elite’ programs, so we may well be looking at a mess of teams within the 5-12 seed lines come March.

Elsewhere, the 2017 Bracket Matrix — a composite of national expert projections — has Illinois positioned as a candidate for a No. 11 seed along with Seton Hall, Dayton, Wichita State, VCU, and Rhode Island.

The Fighting Illini will have a huge opportunity to improve their standing on Saturday when they travel to Bloomington to face the No. 25 Indiana Hoosiers (10-6, 0-2). Tom Crean’s struggling squad is riding a three-game losing streak following their latest loss to No. 13 Wisconsin.