The Illini basketball team has one path to the NCAA Tournament; winning the Big Ten Tournament and receiving the automatic bid. A win over Michigan tomorrow morning would be great for their postseason resume, and give them higher seeding in the NIT. Winning in the semi-finals on Saturday would further show that this Illini basketball team is finishing the season strong (currently 5-1 in their last six road/neutral court games), but that still would not be enough to go dancing.
It's run the table or else.
So essentially this conference tournament is like a qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. If Illinois beats Michigan tomorrow (tip at 11 AM) and wins Saturday, then Sunday literally becomes a March Madness play-in game...
Illinois basketball won't be ranked again any time soon. They responded to being nationally ranked by getting DESTROYED at Wisconsin by 25 points, and then failing to play offense for 3/4 of a game that will go down as one of the worst losses in Illinois basketball history. It's certainly the worst loss of the John Groce era, and among the worst of 2010s Illinois basketball.
Conversely, it's the biggest win of the very very brief Chris Collins era at Northwestern. You wouldn't think a team with records and statistics that bad would actually beat a ranked team this year. But hey, this is Illinois basketball. Time to talk CBI and NIT, because 2013-14 Illinois basketball just suffered a tournament resume black eye from which they won't likely recover.
Here's some Illinois basketball fans and journalists and sports pundits reacting to the biggest win Collins has accomplished, and the death knell for the '13-14 Illinois basketball season ...
I love it when my two press corps get together! Illini basketball vs Northwestern.
It's going down...I'm yelling Timber. You better move, you better dance. Sorry, couldn't pass that up.
It's just that NU and Illini basketball, and football are the two programs, along with the Chicago Bulls, that I cover regularly. Therefore, the once a year that they play each other is special to me as I "belong" to both press corps. The media room at this one is always a lot of fun for me. I even do a weekly segment on KOZN, 1620 The Zone Omaha, talking about Illinois and Northwestern.
(UPDATE: NU to unveil new publicity-grabbing uniforms for this game)
Sunday night, 6:30 PM at Welsh-Ryan Arena will mark the one time they meet this year in hoops. There might be a round two at the Big Ten Tournament in Indy. If it were up to me, I'd keep them meeting just once a year, and have it at the United Center each time...
While games played at the United Center count as a "neutral site" in the Illinois basketball media guide, for the Illinois basketball program the UC is a home away from home. Saturday's contest against UIC marks the 47th game the Illini will play there, dating back '94-'95. Illinois basketball owns an all-time record of 34-12 (.739) at the home of the Chicago Bulls.
This is a homecoming game for many Illinois basketball players, as half of the UI roster features players from Chicagoland in Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, (all from Chicago), along with walk-on Mike LaTulip (Arlington Heights) and transfers (who are currently sitting out) Darius Paul (Gurnee, little brother of Brandon Paul) and Ahmad Starks (Chicago).
The Illini played three games at the United Center last season, barely squeaking by a very terrible Auburn team in December and Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament opening round on a Brandon Paul buzzer beater, before falling to No. 3 Indiana in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Here is the complete list of Illinois basketball games at the United Center, in chronological order. For ten of the most memorable games in Illinois basketball history at the UC (in no particular order, and these are most memorable, not "best," it doesn't have to be a Illinois basketball win to make the list...
I have more respect and admiration for Northwestern football right now than I have previously had at any point in my life. I think even higher of the NU football program, as they finish the season 5-7, as I did when they were 4-0 and ranked #16 in the nation.
Now, I've been very critical of NU this season. I've been extremely harsh on this team. Maybe I've been too critical, or undeservedly critical of Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern football program at times, but it's only because I believe they're a very solid program that should be treated with the exact same scrutiny as the Ohio States and Michigans of the world. And that 7 game losing streak was....to quote George Michael in "Careless Whisper," "there's no comfort in the truth, pain is all you'll find."
I feel NU should be held to very high standards. And I write this 1,000 word essay just moments after they defeated my beloved Alma Mater, in the Land of Lincoln trophy game, so you know this expression comes from the heart. And to be fair, as harshly critical as I've been of Northwestern football, I've been even harder on my Illini, Illinois football coach Tim Beckman, and especially harsh on Illini Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks.
And to show fairness and balance, I've also written a lot of fawning stuff about Northwestern football in 2013.
I've written pulchritudinous pieces that purple propagandists (should) passionately promote. And perhaps no media member beat the drum to bring ESPN College Gameday to Evanston as loud as I did. And I challenge you to find anyone who covered the Gameday at Northwestern University experience with as much effort and zeal as I did.
One topic I never addressed in 2013, positively or negatively, is the tremendous heart and resilient fight of this team. Now's the time...
The BTN Elite Series showcases the 2004-2005 Illini tonight! The latest episode of the Big Ten Network Elite series - focusing on the 2004-05 Illinois basketball team - makes its TV debut on Wednesday night immediately after the Illinois-Valparaiso game (approximately 8:30 p.m.). The 60-minute program will take fans through the season from beginning to end and features new interviews with Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Roger Powell, and James Augustine among others...
Big Ten Basketball Media Day is literally just hours away now. THANK GOD. It helps me. This idea gets me through football season. Big Ten Basketball Media Day helps me, by acting as a healing mechanism. It's unofficially opening day, signaling hope anew; and rescue from the despair of football season.
Big Ten basketball season cannot get here fast enough. Especially for someone like me, who covers two college football teams, Northwestern and Illinois who are #10 and #11 in everybody’s conference power rankings. Then again college basketball season is always something that never gets here soon enough for me. I prefer college hoops over college football. And I should; I attended two college hoops power houses (University of Illinois '99, Michigan State MBA). College basketball, not the NBA or NFL or college football "is my bag baby."
I love college hoops as much as I despise Facebook Fan pages. I like to watch college basketball as much as I like to ignore invitations to "Like" Facebook Fan Pages. I enjoy watching March Madness as much as I enjoy never clicking on mommy-blogs. (Seriously, is the mommy-blogger craze over yet??)...
"Our presence in Chicago is important to us, we are the state team, we need to bring ourselves closer to them for marketing purposes," said Illini Wide Receivers Coach Mike Bellamy- a former Chicago Bears player, native of the SouthSide (prepped at Kenwood Academy) and Illini wideout who played with Jeff George in Champaign.
"And we have a large alumni base in Chicago and sometimes they can't make it down, so why not bring the game to them?" Bellamy continued.
On Saturday, the Illini were competing for sports fan interest against the White Sox, NASCAR Nationwide, Northwestern, a Fire match and the BMW Classic. And they still drew 47,312 fans to the lakefront in Chicago. That attendance is higher than what Illinois drew at home for their first two games this season; and a solid figure when you consider how very low expectations were heading into this year...
This Saturday I’ll be “the doing the double.” The term comes from auto racing, but I’m applying it to college football. Illinois is playing Washington at the home of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field at 5pm Saturday. After I’m done, I’m headed to Evanston for Northwestern vs Western Michigan with a 8pm kickoff.
Any other local Chicago sports media doing the doubleheader? If my good friend Lindsey Willhite, PR Director for the Chicago Wolves, was still working for the Daily Herald I know he’d be right there with me.
Anyway, the auto racing version of doing the double is the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and the IRL Indianapolis 500 on the same day.
Tony Stewart has done it three times. And keeping with this theme of doubling up…
Today, Illinois football ended their nine game losing streak. And they did it on Social Media Day at Memorial Stadium. Well, they just barely survived: winning 42-34 over the SIU Salukis in a game that went down to the wire. Unfortunately for Illinois football, who reside in the Big Ten, a BCS power conference, just escaping versus a FCS squad, and a middle of the road one and that, doesn’t cut it.
Illini Coach Tim Beckman was on the hot seat entering this game. It’s surface of the planet Venus now; after outgaining a FCS opponent at home by just 57 yards and winning by a slim margin. (More on what went down on the field and what it means for Illinois football here)
Let's get to the tweets today (saving my own for the bottom)...
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now and Minute Media. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and ChicagoNow.
He's been a featured guest in dozens of media outlets including The History Channel. His work has been cited in hundreds of publications including the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.