Illini Look NCAA Tournament Bound; Who Could Steal Their Bid?

bruce weber

Truthfully, if I again hear the words "enhance NCAA profile" or "NCAA
profile needs enhancing" like there's some sort of a erectile
dysfunction drug to fix it, I'll probably punch all the Viagra in the
world. It's getting out of hand people. Seriously.

But we've had to examine the profile of the Illinois Fighting Illini
a lot these past couple of seasons. There's been a lot (or, not a lot,
if you prefer to look at it that way) to examine. It won't be any
different after their 72-48 win in their regular season finale against
Indiana.

Without getting into major peripherals, the Illini are 19-12 overall, and 9-9 in the Big Ten. Prior to Saturday's win, their KenPom ranking was 19th.

This season is no different, although it seems Illini fans everywhere
now are talking about the Illini being "in" the dance and that all the
work is done.

After dealing with this just one short season ago...I caution all Illini fans to tread carefully.

sad illini fan
Yes, that's right. Seeeee the sad Illini fan.

Gaze into his eyes. Remember the sorrow from last season.

Now...let's get one thing clear before we go forward. Right now, I do
believe the Illini are in the NCAA's right now and probable around a
nine seed.

The key words in that last sentence, however, were not "in the NCAA's," however. They were "right now."

Right now, the Illini are in. Right now, things look good.

And though things looked murky after last season's regular season
finale, the fact of the matter is that they still could have played
their way in.

The fact also remains that many fans thought the Illini were already in after their quarterfinal blowout win against Wisconsin.

What doesn't stay static is the bubble around you. Things happen,
teams that shouldn't win win and teams that shouldn't lose lose, and
profiles keep on getting...ahem...enhanced...all around you.

While you're making yourself stronger, other teams are too, not to
mention that the bubble shrinks with every unexpected automatic berth
team that defeats a team that will most likely grab a bid regardless.

In short, the bubble is an ever-changing, living organism.

Things to consider going forward...

  • The number of Big East
    teams that qualify. It appears that we're looking at 11 bids from the
    large conference out east. That doesn't bode well for the Illini or any
    other team that's close going forward.
  • The number of Pac-10 teams is equally worth paying attention to. It
    looks like 3 might go, with Arizona, UCLA in and Washington a bubble
    team. However, with upset in that conference tourney -- and don't count
    it out, because the Pac-10 is kind of a train-wreck -- it most likely
    becomes a four-bid conference...and that's a bid stealer.
  • The major conference that seems most-likely to send teams on a
    conference tourney run is the SEC. Every season underdogs make a big run
    through their bracket and put a scare into teams hoping their name will
    get called. Sometimes they win, like the below .500 Georgia team that
    brought home the title a few seasons back, and sometimes they don't,
    like Mississippi State last season. One thing is certain, and it's that
    there's always plenty of drama to go around there.
  • Keep an eye on the CAA. It looks like they have two getting in
    regardless of what happens in the tourney with Old Dominion and George
    Mason. Should a team like, say VCU win that CAA Tourney (a not horribly
    unlikely scenario as the Rams might be the most talented team in the CAA), then you've got a three bid conference there.

These are the things you have to be aware of as Selection Sunday
approaches. These are all the machinations and moving parts that
Illinois fans need to be aware of as we get closer to that fateful day.

Things look good. Right now.

I don't need to quote the famous Winston Wolf line from Pulp Fiction, do I?

Paul Schmidt is a senior contributor and media relations director for the Sports Bank, and is entering his tenth year of writing about sports in Chicago and Illinois.

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    Paul M. Banks

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