Hello, Illinois Fighting Illini Fans!
Illinois, based on the Big Ten standings, is guaranteed the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, win or lose against Ohio State today. They cannot catch Michigan even if Michigan wins loses to Michigan State tomorrow afternoon.
In my latest Schmolik 64 bracket update, done yesterday based on data up to Thursday's games, Illinois is a #1 seed. That is consistent with many brackets across the internet. Illinois is almost a consensus #1 seed in the Bracket Matrix, with an average seed of 1.06 out of 116 brackets.
On the other hand, things could change today. As we know, Ohio State beat Illinois earlier this season in Champaign. If Ohio State wins again today, they will have the head to head sweep. Illinois will have the better conference record and beat Michigan but both teams will have seven losses (they'd have the same record, 19-7). You'd have to then say Ohio State should be ranked ahead of Illinois because of the sweep. There would then be no room on the 1 line for Illinois. Even though Illinois beat Michigan, you would be comparing an Illinois team with seven losses to a Michigan team with just two (three if Michigan State beats them Sunday). Baylor could lose today but they'd still have three losses and they beat us in December pretty badly and we're not even going to talk about Gonzaga. Now if Illinois loses to Ohio State, I don't think Illinois can't be a #1 seed but they will have to prove during the Big Ten Tournament that they are better than Ohio State. They would have to either win the tournament or at the very least beat Ohio State and make the final (for Illinois to beat the Buckeyes and not win the tournament, Ohio State would have to be the #3 seed and that would require both Iowa and Wisconsin to lose their last games and both teams are playing at home. I think if Illinois wins the Big Ten Tournament over Ohio State or Michigan, they would pass Ohio State and get a #1 seed. If it's Ohio State vs. Illinois for the Big Ten Championship, the Selection Committee probably has "winner" as a #1 and "loser" as a #2.
Now if Illinois beats Ohio State (Ohio State has lost three in a row including two at home, one to an Iowa team they beat on the road earlier in the season). Then for sure Illinois has to be a favorite for one of the #1 seeds going into the Big Ten Tournament along with Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan. I don't know if they'd be a lock.
If Ohio State beats Illinois in Indianapolis and wins the championship, they would have won two out of three vs. the Illini and would also move ahead of Illinois in the Big Ten pecking order. If OSU also beat Michigan in the tournament, it would be hard to deny the Buckeyes a #1 seed instead of Illinois, especially if it's Illinois vs. Ohio State in the championship game where it would be easy to set up a winner/loser scenario.
Another team it wouldn't be far fetched to see pass Illinois is the Iowa Hawkeyes. If Iowa beats both Illinois and Michigan in Indianapolis and wins the title, Iowa and Illinois would have split two games but Iowa would have won on a neutral site vs. Illinois winning in Champaign.
Finally, there are two teams outside of the Big Ten to watch out for that could come from behind and take Illinois's #1 seed. The difference here is that Iowa and Ohio State can beat Illinois while these teams can't. But if Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio State all lose early in the Big Ten Tournament, that opens the door for either West Virginia from the Big 12 or Alabama from the SEC to steal a #1 seed. Both teams were #2 seeds in my Schmolik 64 bracket yesterday. If West Virginia beats Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament (almost certainly the final), that would be very impressive. Even without beating Baylor, the Big 12 has many strong teams for West Virginia to build their resume on. They should be able to get two or three Quad 1 wins if they win the title. Alabama can't impress the Committee as much playing in the weaker SEC. They also have a Quad 3 loss earlier in the season. As of today, all six of Illinois's losses are to Quad 1 teams. For those keeping score at home, Quad 1 games are home games vs. teams ranked between 1-30 in the NET, neutral site games vs. teams ranked 1-50, and road games vs. teams ranked 1-75. Maryland ranks exactly #30 so to keep Illinois "perfect" they need to stay in the top 30. If they blow the game to Penn State tomorrow like they did to Northwestern this past week, we pick up a Quad 2 loss. Also, Michigan State is #73. If they lose to Michigan, they might fall below #75 and we pick up a Quad 2 loss as well. I want to say to the Committee we've had a "perfect" season, no losses other than Quad 1 losses. It's the job of the teams we beat to keep it that way.
But today's game at Ohio State will go a long way in determining whether Illinois is a #1 seed or not. I have a feeling the Big Ten will get two #1 seeds. If that's the case, you have to figure the 3rd Big Ten team will probably be the #2 seed in Baylor's bracket and the 4th Big Ten team will be the #2 seed in Gonzaga's bracket (if it's Ohio State or Iowa and they bomb out early they might even be a #3 seed). Illinois is a lot better team today than they were in December and Baylor almost lost to winless in the Big 12 Iowa State recently. I don't know if Illinois will be able to beat Baylor this time around but I'd be shocked if Baylor blew them out. Also, Baylor hasn't made the Final Four in the 64 team field era (1985). Is this Illinois's year? The last two times Illinois made the Final Four were 2005, 16 years ago, and 1989, 16 years before that! If Illinois makes the Final Four this year ... I can't wait until 2037!