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Illinois Men's Tennis looking to continue strong season in NCAA Tournament

Illini get some home cooking in first-round matchup against Marquette.

This is what Illinois men's tennis has built towards all season.

The eight seed isn't ideal, but Illinois gets its first two matchups at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, and that's a good start.

Historically, Illinois has been very good at home. Entering this year, the Illini are 29-4 in 17 first- and second-round matchups in Champaign, and look for that stretch to continue with a victory over Marquette on Saturday.

Now, Marquette is no slouch, as they finished the season 17-6, taking the Big East crown in the process. However, with players like Aleks Vukic, Alex Brown, Zeke Clark and Aleks Kovacevic, Illinois holds the superior firepower necessary to upend the Golden Eagles.

This is the 23rd straight NCAA tournament appearance for Illinois, dating all the way back to 1996. That's a stretch of competitiveness unheard of by most Illinois fans, and it shows the kind of program head coach Brad Dancer has sustained and developed.

If Illinois does defeat Marquette, its next matchup will be against the winner of the matchup between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Drake Bulldogs. Last year, in Lubbock, Texas, the Illini swept Drake on its way to a quarterfinal loss against TCU. Illinois last played Vanderbilt in 2003, the year where the Illini won the National Championship "Triple Crown" — overall, doubles and singles championships in one tournament.

Illinois stands a better than average chance to advance through this weekend with a pair of wins, as long as they play like they have all season. Expect a victorious weekend, and advancement to the campus of Wake Forest, which hosts the championship rounds.

Illinois' tournament run starts Saturday at 3 p.m.