- Scott Powers, Reporter
- 0 Shares
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois coach Bruce Weber wasn't feeling optimistic as the moment of truth approached on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with ESPNChicago.com one hour before the NCAA Tournament field was to be announced, Weber believed the Illini would be sitting outside the 65-team bubble in the end.
"I'm past nervousness," Weber said. "If we get in, I'd be surprised if I'm honest. If we get in, I'd be extremely happy.
"I think we should be in, but many teams probably feel that same way around the country."
Weber and the Illinois team planned to watch the 5 p.m. CT selection show at the team's basketball complex.
Afterward, he and a few of the players are expected to meet with the media.
After losing to Ohio State in double overtime on Saturday, Weber returned to Champaign and was able to get some much-needed rest. After estimating he would only sleep a total of one hour the previous two nights, it did catch up with him and was able to close his eyes from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Sunday.
On Sunday, Weber watched the second half of the Big Ten Tournament championship between Minnesota and Ohio State and wasn't surprised the Buckeyes pulled away.
"They have so many weapons," Weber said.
The Buckeyes' win could have improved Illinois' position. Many experts assume one tournament spot could come between Illinois and Minnesota. The Illini finished ahead of the Gophers in the Big Ten, but Minnesota did advance to the conference tournament's championship game and won at Illinois.
"There's a chance that could be a factor," said Weber of his team's loss to Minnesota at Illinois. "We did finish ahead of them in the Big Ten. We do have more quality wins. They may have benefited by playing four games in the Big Ten Tournament. They got the sixth seed and played Michigan State. We got the fifth and played the better team, Wisconsin.
"Do quality wins mean something? It has to mean something."
The Illini defeated three top-25 teams in the ESPN poll and four in the AP poll. They went 5-9 against top-50 RPI teams and finished ranked 74th in the country in RPI.
Whether Illinois makes it in or not, Weber believes the field should be expanded to 96 teams in the future.
"If you look at my comments over the last three years, I've been in favor of it," Weber said. "I don't know how you decide between those last few teams. Also, I'm all for the student-athlete experience. It's the kids' hearts who are ripped out if they don't get in.
"If it was expanded, we'd definitely be in this year."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
Bruce Weber is not optimistic about the Illini's NCAA chances.