Hello, Illinois Fighting Illini fans!
It's been a long time coming for us. It's expected that Illinois's men's basketball team will play in their first NCAA Tournament since the 2013 season. It's been a long time coming, especially for us older Illini fans. When I was at Illinois, we went to the tournament three out of four years. Making the tournament was the norm, not the exception. Recently, it's been the exception. Hopefully in the future things will be more like my old days when Illinois made regular appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Before Illinois plays in the NCAA Tournament they will play this week in the Big Ten Tournament. Last Sunday, Illinois beat Iowa and clinched the #4 seed which means they will advance to the quarterfinals and not play until Friday. Illinois will play the winner of the game between Iowa and the Minnesota-Northwestern winner. Illinois split two games with Iowa, won their only meeting with Minnesota, and swept two games with Northwestern. If Illinois wins Friday, their most likely opponent will be top seeded Wisconsin. Illinois won their only meeting vs. the Badgers in Madison. Michigan and Rutgers are the other teams on the top half of the draw.
After the Big Ten Tournament, the Illini will advance to one of eight 1st round sites (I assume they will not play in the "First Four" in Dayton, Ohio). Their first round game will either be Thursday or Friday. These are distances from State Farm Center courtesy of Google Maps.
St. Louis (175 miles)
Cleveland (440 miles)
Omaha (490 miles)
Greensboro (677 miles)
Albany (908 miles)
Tampa (1074 miles)
Spokane (1816 miles)
Sacramento (2042 miles)
Distance wise, St. Louis is by far the site Illinois wants to go to with the two western sites the least attractive by far. I don't know how much time the team would have for leisure activities but Tampa sounds like a lot of fun (they have beaches and it's spring training time although the Cubs obviously train in Arizona). Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sacramento is at least within driving distance from San Francisco. This might not be relevant for the team but if any fans want to travel it could be relevant. Does anyone here want to travel to Spokane?
Here are some "bracketology" sites of where Illinois is seeded and placed to give you an idea as to where they stand.
Schmolik 64 (Mine): South #6, St. Louis, 1st Round vs. #11 Stanford, 2nd Round vs. #3 Creighton
CBS Sports: Midwest #6, Greensboro, 1st Round vs. #11 Wichita State/Richmond, 2nd Round vs. #3 Duke
ESPN: East #7, St. Louis, 1st Round vs. #10 Marquette, 2nd Round vs. #2 Kentucky
Sports Illustrated (Jim): South #7, Tampa (assumed), 1st Round vs. #10 Utah State, 2nd Round vs. #2 Florida State, (Ky): Midwest #8, Omaha or St. Louis, 1st Round vs. #9 USC, 2nd Round vs. #1 Kansas
USA Today: Midwest #7, St. Louis, 1st Round vs. #10 Utah State, 2nd Round vs. #2 Creighton
Yahoo: Midwest #7, St. Louis (assumed), 1st Round vs. #10 East Tennessee State, 2nd Round vs. #2 Creighton
The Bracket Matrix contains many brackets including mine, CBS's, ESPN's, and Yahoo's. The last time I checked, there were 122 brackets listed. Illinois's average seed was 7.07 so that translates to a #7 seed. The four #10 seeds in the Matrix are Oklahoma, Arizona State, Indiana, and Texas Tech. NCAA rules don't allow teams to play conference opponents in the first round. If these seeds hold up, Illinois would be playing one of the other three teams. The four #2 seeds in the Matrix now are San Diego State, Florida State, Villanova, and Creighton. Teams are usually assigned to a 1st round site by the top seed listed. San Diego State likely goes to Sacramento, Florida State to Tampa, Villanova to Albany, and Creighton to St. Louis. So if Illinois wants to play in St. Louis, they will want to be matched with Creighton. Of the paths listed, playing Duke in Greensboro would mean they would have a huge home court advantage in the second round but when Illinois hasn't played in the NCAA's in seven years I'll be happy to make the second round.
Illinois is in a place where most likely the worst case scenario is they will lose Friday to Iowa and they will probably stay around a #7 seed. Technically they could lose to Northwestern and that would hurt Illinois but we won't discuss that. They could move up to a #5 seed if they do well in the Big Ten Tournament (dare to dream a #4 seed if they win it all).
So go Illini!