Illini A.D. on NIT: ‘We’ve put ourselves in good position’Continue reading.
A.D.: Illini will play in CBI if invited
Newsflash: Illinois will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament next month unless it gets on a crazy, Hoosiers-style run and wins the Big Ten tournament.
That was a reference to the Gene Hackman film of nearly 30 years ago, not the Tom Crean horror flick currently playing out in Bloomington, Ind.
Given the extreme unlikelihood of the Illini winning four games (or three … or two …) in Indianapolis, it’s pretty much, as I’ve written too many times by now, NIT or bust for John Groce’s team.
Except that it’s not, not anymore, not now that the team’s record has gotten so bad — 14-12 overall, 3-10 in league games — that the NIT probably won’t even consider the Illini unless they win at least four or five more games.
In 2013, the 18-win teams from major conferences that made the NIT field — Baylor, Florida State, Washington, Stanford — all played .500 basketball in their leagues. The exception was St. John’s, but of course the New York-based NIT is going to throw the Johnnies a bone when it can.
Here’s Illinois’ remaining schedule: at Minnesota, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State, vs. Michigan, at Iowa. I don’t see any wins in there. Maybe one or two, best case. Do you?
Seems the real best-case scenario is the CBI tourney, which makes room for some really bad teams. Cases in point: Purdue and Texas, which made the field in 2013 with losing records. The Boilermakers were 8-10 in the Big Ten, while the Longhorns went 7-11 in the Big 12.
Maybe the Illini get hot, or hot-ish, spring a league tourney upset or two and get an invite from the CBI. Who knows?
Thinking about this (what fun!), I called athletic director Mike Thomas to find out if Illinois would accept any potential tournament invite. The answer is yes.
“Unless there was some unforeseen circumstance, which I don’t see at this point, we would,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Groce have discussed the CBI and are on the same page. Groce would be happy to have the extra practices with his young team.
The added practice time “can really serve as a springboard,” Thomas said, “especially if you have a young team — and we have a very young team.”
The pros-and-cons list regarding a lesser tourney like the CBI is interesting because Illinois can’t host any postseason games. The final home game of the regular season is March 4 against Michigan, and State Farm Center becomes a construction site on March 6. There is too much invested in this large-scale renovations project for that schedule to be messed with.