Ok, bracketologists, this week is dedicated to you. Championship week has arrived, the precursor to the unveiling of the 65 teams that will battle it out for the national championship next month. If you are a sports fan, especially a college basketball fan, then chances are you are in heaven this week. So much is on the line this week for so many teams, and that could not be more apparent for the Fighting Illini, who find themselves on shaky ground and square on the NCAA bubble. Not to say that they don't deserve to be where they are, because they have had some really bad losses this season and, to make matters even worse, haven't taken care of business over the past few weeks to solidify themselves a spot in the "dance". Yet, sitting at 18-13 overall as they head to Indianapolis to begin play in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday, there they are being talked about as one of the Lucky 65 that will be rejoicing come Sunday. Personally, I don't see this, because the Illini have really done nothing as of late to give me any indication that they belong in the field come Selection Sunday. Losing at home against Minnesota and Wisconsin during the critical stage of their season doesn't bode well, but who am I to say? That is the selection committee's job to seed these teams, and not mine. Thank goodness for that!
The Illini certainly will know their opponent in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, because they just faced them last Sunday. The Wisconsin Badgers, probably still sore from the beatdown that the Illini gave them in Madison in February, came into the Assembly Hall with a score to settle and a point to prove. In the first meeting, the Badgers were without Jon Leuer, who was injured, but it didn't take long for the Illini to see that he was back. The game was pretty tight throughout, but once again the Illini fell behind by double digits and tried to make a valiant comeback, which fell short this time around. Demetri McCamey, who has carried the Illini through thick and thin this season, had another sub-par game, and even got into it with Coach Weber on the bench. Weber joked with reporters after the game saying it was all "hugs and kisses" between him and his star guard, and that it was a good teaching moment between a father and a son. Since Weber doesn't have any sons of his own, he probably makes those points evident through the players that he coaches. I have normally been a defender of Weber and some of the things that he does, but on Sunday, he did (or didn't do) some things that maybe could have swung the momentum in the other direction. At the end of the first half, with 2 fouls to give and trailing by 3, Weber could have called for fouls that would have essentially ran out the clock. Instead, he doesn't call for the fouls, and Keaton Nankivil buries a triple at the buzzer that put the Badgers up by 6. The Illini would get no closer than 5 in the second half, and will now limp into Conseco Fieldhouse needing at least 1 win, maybe more to feel good about their chances on Sunday.
Speaking of the Big Ten Tournament, the action kicks off on Thursday with 3 games, leading off with Michigan (8 seed) vs Iowa (9 seed) squaring off at 1:30 central time. After that game, Northwestern (7 seed) takes on Indiana (10 seed), followed by Minnesota (6 seed) battling Penn State (11 seed) to close out the action on the first day. Friday's action begins at 11:00 central time with the top seed Ohio State Buckeyes taking on the Michigan-Iowa winner. The Illini (5 seed) and the Badgers (4 seed) are the second game of the day, then after a little break, the evening session kicks in with the second seed Purdue taking on the winner of the Northwestern-Indiana game. Michigan State, the third seed, will face the winner of the Minnesota-Penn State game in the final game on Friday. The winners of those matchups will meet on Saturday afternoon with the championship game set for Sunday afternoon, just before the brackets are unveiled.
In closing this Big Ten Tournament edition of the "On Campus With The Illini Guy" blog, the Illini have had some good wins this season, namely on the road at Clemson, at home against Vanderbilt and Michigan State, and also the win at Wisconsin. However, bad losses in Las Vegas against Utah and Bradley, and the loss at Georgia sting at this point, while the loss at the United Center in Chicago against Gonzaga really would have put this team over the top, just have fans shaking their heads at this point. Is it enough? We shall see in a few short days. Enjoy the tournament folks, because you know I will!