Sunday, March 08, 2009

The #2 Seed--thank you Iowa and Michigan State

Whether they fully deserve it or not, Illinois will have the #2 seed at the Big Ten tournament, which begins later this week. Illinois had a chance to earn that seed without any help but their loss to Penn State on Thursday forced them to rely on some assistance from others.

Iowa and Michigan State obliged with that help by beating Penn State and Purdue, respectively, this weekend. Never thought I would be happy to see the Hawkeyes win a particular game but they gutted one out in double overtime over a Nittany Lions team that, from my point of view, should definitely be in the NCAA Tournament (barring a total collapse in the conference tournament).

Michigan State has clearly established itself as the top team in the conference this season, especially over the past week or two, and has a shot at a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois has had a very good season and, while I hated to see the loss to Penn State, they have an opportunity to regain some momentum during the conference tournament and get themselve ready for the big dance.

At one point, I thought a NCAA 4 seed or maybe even a 3 seed might be possible for Illinois. Now, I think the only shot at a 4 seed would be winning the conference tournament. A seed of anywhere from 5 to 8 seems much more likely now, with a 6 or 7 seed being the most probable.

Illinois could really be helped by at least making the title game of the conference tournament. However, with all of the parity in the conference this season and the surprises that seem to be the norm in the Big 10 Tournament, I don't think any team can take anything for granted.

I knew Illinois would be better this year but didn't anticpate them being this much better. Some feel that they have overachieved and perhaps they have, but most nights I have really enjoyed watching them play. For all the criticism he has taken over the past year or two, Coach Weber and the coaching staff now deserve a lot of credit for getting this team in the position they are currently in. They have done an outstanding job this season and Coach Weber has certainly earned the national coach of the year considerations he is receiving.

I hope we can continue to watch this Illinois team play for a few more weeks but regardless of when or how this season ends, I think all Illini fans should be excited about what lies ahead in the coming years for Illinois basketball. If the returning players continue to develop and improve as much as they did from last year to this year and if the incoming recruits next year and beyond are as good as they appear to be, then the future is indeed bright for the Illini.

For now, let's enjoy the conference and NCAA tournaments and see how far this team can advance. And, again, my thanks to the Hawkeyes and Spartans for their help this weekend--it was much appreciated. Until next time, GO ILLINI!

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