Illini await NCAA tournament fate
After losing to Ohio State, the Illini can only wait and hope they make the tourney
INDIANAPOLIS -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber counts in minutes, not hours, to calculate the amount he's slept over the past two days at the Big Ten tournament.
On Friday night, he estimated it to be five minutes.
Unfortunately, Saturday night isn't likely to be much better.
A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinal on Saturday would have rested Weber's NCAA tournament concerns as well as allowed him to get a full night's rest. Instead, the Illini fell to Ohio State 88-81 in double overtime, and Weber is bound for another long, tiresome evening.
"I'm not going to sleep," Weber said. "I haven't slept in two days. Nothing's going to change ... I'll probably go recruiting tonight, to be honest. I'll probably just go to church in the morning."
Weber may want to bring his entire team with him to Mass. The Illini need all the prayers they can get come Sunday evening as the final selections are made for the NCAA tournament.
What Illinois has going for it are five wins over top-50 RPI opponents, including three in the Top 25, two wins over Wisconsin, including one on the road, and victories over Clemson, Michigan State and Vanderbilt.
Hurting the Illini are their losses to Bradley, Georgia and Utah, and they didn't exactly play their best basketball at the end of the season as they finished 4-6. They did have to play Ohio State and Wisconsin three times each, along with Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue during that stretch.
"We have a lot of good things on our résumé," Weber said. "We have some question marks on our résumé. We just got to wait to see how things turn out.
"I said, 'If we get in, you can see we're a pretty good team.' Are we one of the best 65 teams in the country? Yes, that doesn't mean that things are going to work out for us. We just have to hope and pray."
Illinois junior Mike Davis may be biased, but he thinks his team is in.
"I personally think we're one of the top 65 teams in the country," Davis said after scoring 13 points and grabbing 18 rebounds against Ohio State.
Illinois junior Jeff Jordan felt the same, but wasn't making any predictions.
"You never know how it's going to go," Jordan said. "We just hope we've proven to be in the top 65. We think we have a great team, and we hope the committee thinks so, too."
It's not exactly what everyone was saying earlier in the week. On Sunday, after losing to Wisconsin in Champaign, Weber didn't talk so glowingly about his team or its NCAA tournament chances. He was a defeated coach who was at a loss for answers after his team was outplayed on its own court in a vital game.
What a difference a week makes. Weber had no doubts about his team Saturday after defeating Wisconsin on Friday and taking Ohio State to the wire.
"I couldn't be more proud of our kids," Weber said. "I wasn't proud of them at the start of the week. I wasn't proud of myself. I didn't like our team. I didn't like how they competed. I didn't like how I coached, to be honest. To their credit, they made a transformation in a week. They got after it and it carried over to this weekend."
Illinois co-captain Bill Cole knows that if the Illini don't reach the tournament, the team's past few weeks will be the reason. But he also spun that thought and looked forward to what current play would mean if they made it.
"We wish we were playing like this earlier in the year," Cole said. "You can look at it the other way too as we're happy we're peaking right now if we make the tournament. You can't look back. I'm really happy with the whole toughness the team played with. We really showed some maturity. I just hope we get into the tournament."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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