Illinois didn’t make the 2018 NCAA Tournament, its fifth year in a row without a bid.
Luckily, if you’re an Illini fan, you still have reason to watch the Elite Eight because Illinois has a connection to most of the remaining teams from the once 68-team field.
Let’s break it down one by one.
With one more win, Loyola has the opportunity to be the first team in the state of Illinois to make the Final Four since — you guessed it — the Illini. We’ll just call them the in-state mid-major from here on out.
The story is really, really great. I love Sister Jean. Porter Moser is an awesome name. I’ve never seen a team be this clutch.
But, at the end of the day, Loyola has three NCAA Tournament wins in the past nine days, the same number Illinois has since the Final Four run in 2005. It’s fun to cheer for the underdog, but not at the expense of your own pain.
Kansas State Wildcats
Talking about your own pain, how about Bruce Weber and the Kansas State Wildcats! Once upon a time, Weber coached Illinois to a Final Four (with Bill Self’s roster). A downward trajectory forced Weber out of a job, but hindsight is 20/20 and the coach has had more success than his former program since his exit.
Has any team ever had as easy a path to the Elite Eight than K-State? An eight-seed, a 16-seed and a five-seed en route to playing an 11-seed. Fun.
You can either have the in-state mid-major or the former beloved coach in this matchup.
Florida State Seminoles
Another Elite Eight team is Florida State. I’m not going to get political about former symbol Chief Illiniwek, but Florida State’s mascot is the Seminole. So, if you’re looking for a connection between Illinois and FSU, Florida State still has its Native American mascot.
We’ll leave it at that.
Florida State’s opponent Saturday will be the Michigan Wolverines, a Big Ten foe of the Illini. It’s always fun to see Big Ten teams find success in the NCAA Tournament, especially during the current title drought for B1G programs, but Michigan? Really? Ugh. It couldn’t be Rutgers?
Native American imagery or scUM is heading to the Final Four.
The name Jalen Brunson ring a bell? It should. The Lincolnshire, Illinois, native won the national championship with Villanova as a freshman in 2016, and he looks to help his team do it again this season as Jay Wright’s junior leader.
Illinois finished runner-up to ‘Nova during Brunson’s recruitment in 2015, and he could have been a program-changing commitment for John Groce, exemplified by his success and a possible Wooden Award this year.
Anyways, we got to watch more Jaylon Tate as Brunson tore it up for the Wildcats. One more win and he’s back in the Final Four.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
This one’s going to take a little more work to find the connection, but it’s there. Tommy Hamilton IV, who averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Red Raiders, is a Chicago native who spent his first three seasons with DePaul. A former three-star recruit, Hamilton sat out the 2016-17 season in order to transfer to Lubbock for his final season.
Want to watch the in-state kid who could have potentially added depth to Illinois if John Groce pursued him two seasons ago? Root for Tech!
Bill Self used to coach at Illinois, but you already knew that because Kansas makes the Elite Eight every year these days.
Not much to say here, except that Self is a winner.
Duke Blue Devils
It’s Duke. We’re Illinois fans. We hate Duke.
The Elite Eight gets started Saturday night.