Hello, Illinois Fighting Illini Fans!
Today (or tomorrow depending on where Illlinois was assigned) Illinois was supposed to be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. But the damn corona virus caused the NCAA Tournament to be canceled this season. Was this season the once in a lifetime season for Illinois or the return to the good old days of Illinois basketball where NCAA Tournaments were the norm and not the exception? Will Ayo Dosunmu return next season? Regardless, Koki Cockburn and Trent Frazier should return and the Illini have a taste of winning that hopefully cares over into 2021.
But to make Illinois feel better, I've put together a "Millennium Tournament". These are the 64 best schools in the NCAA Tournament since 2000 using the criteria of most NCAA Tournament wins since 2000. Ties were broken in the following order: most # of national championships, most # of Final Four appearances, most # of Sweet 16's, most # of tournament appearances. First Four wins do not count as wins and First Four losses do not count as appearances. Obviously if it was a tournament for the 2010's Illinois would not qualify as they only won two games, one in 2011 and one in 2013.
Then I chose the venues.
Final Four: Indianapolis - The NCAA's corporate headquarters and the most common Final Four site, it's a short drive from Champaign-Urbana.
Chicago: Of course we have to have a regional in Chicago in case Illinois gets there. I was at the 2005 Sweet 16 and Regional Final games in Chicago. My plan though is for the games to be played at the United Center, not Allstate Arena where the 2005 games were played.
Philadelphia: I live in the Philadelphia area now.
Charlotte: Both North Carolina and Duke are #1 seeds so it is natural to have one of the regionals in North Carolina. Because of this, I will name the regionals after the cities and not the regions. If you wish to do regions, Charlotte is unofficially the "South" region and not the "East".
Los Angeles: In honor of Kobe and I also have family there.
Syracuse: The first NCAA Tournament games I ever saw live were in Syracuse (1997 and 2000).
Brooklyn: To bring the tournament to the New York area. It's newer than Madison Square Garden. Maybe one day the Big Ten Tournament will be played there.
Pittsburgh: For Pennsylvania, my home state.
Raleigh: For North Carolina/Duke:
Louisville: Another big state for college basketball is Kentucky and their arena is new and holds a lot of people.
Orlando: The happiest place in America, it's warm, sunny, relatively close to beaches.
Dallas - Gives a site to Texas. I also have family there.
San Francisco - I also have family there (they're all over the place, there's cities they live in who I passed over!) They also have a brand new arena which hasn't yet hosted the real NCAA Tournament but will in 2022.
No Big Ten cities will host the 1st/2nd rounds but Chicago is hosting one of the regionals and the Final Four is in Indy.
Here's the bracket (The number after each team is the number of NCAA Tournament wins.):
|14||San Diego St||6|
Illinois is the #7 seed in the Chicago Regional (of course I'm going to put Illinois in the Chicago Regional). The closest regional site is Louisville and Illinois can't play Wisconsin in the 2nd round so they have to (potentially) play Kentucky in the 2nd round. It will be a tough challenge for the Illini. If they win, they will likely play Syracuse followed by Michigan State although there are other teams possible.
Now for the purposes of the tournament each school can choose any coach and players from the school from the millennium. For Illinois, I'm pretty sure the starting five would be Illinois's 2004-05 team of Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, Roger Powell, and James Augustine. But an interesting question would be who would be the head coach? Bruce Weber coached them to the title game but Bill Self recruited the players to Champaign and led Kansas to a national championship. Illinois's #7 seed is based upon the overall Illinois performance of the last two decades but the 2005 team is one of the best teams in college basketball over that time span, they're a lot better than most #7 seeds.
The problem is Kentucky would get to choose from a lot of talented players. They'll start with Anthony Davis and other members from the 2011-12 national championship teams and/or the 2014-15 team that went undefeated in the regular season and made the Final Four. If Illinois plays Syracuse in the Sweet 16, imagine playing Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony (he played in 2003, close to the same time as the Illini). If Illinois made it to play Michigan State, Michigan State won the first National Championship of the millennium so Mateen Cleaves would be playing for them. I would love to imagine the 2005 Illini vs. these teams at their peak though. I think it's pretty safe to say Illinois would beat Stanford in the first round. I can't remember one Stanford player in the last millennium, can anyone here?
The overall #1 seed in the Millennium Tournament is North Carolina since they won three national championships to Kansas's one. Duke is the third overall seed and Michigan State (Chicago Regional) is the fourth overall seed. So if Illinois gets to the Final Four, they will play the Charlotte Regional champion which means North Carolina is the most likely opponent assuming Wisconsin doesn't upset them. Who knows, maybe they will start many players from the 2005 team that beat Illinois (although I'd imagine their top choice would be 2009 champion Tyler Hansbrough)?
So how far does Illinois get? Hey, we need something to do the next few weeks. The Big Ten Tournament aired a special about the 2005 team several times today. If you missed it today, hopefully they will air it again the next few weeks.