Selection Sunday has always been one of my favorite days of the year. It’s a college hoops bonanza all day long. The day begins with several of the major conference tournaments wrapping up. Then comes the anticipation and excitement of the selection show. Who doesn’t love it when they show the celebrations of the mid-majors and bubble teams? Finally, if you’re still pining for more, you can watch the endless hours of bracket analysis (and you can be sure that Dick Vitale will be screaming about snubs).
After last years Selection Sunday debacle (me stuck in the library while Illinois got snubbed), I was hoping this year would go a little better. The choke-job against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament gave me some reason to be nervous, but most experts still had the Illini (19-13) safely in.
It turns out that I had absolutely no reason to worry. The NCAA selection committee appeared to hold the Big Ten in very high regard, as they awarded Illinois a 9 seed in the Southwest Region. Fellow bubble teams Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State received 8, 10, and 10 seeds respectively. I can’t say I really agree with any of these seedings, but I’m not going to complain. I like that the Big Ten got the respect that it did.
Facing the Illini in Tulsa on Friday will be 8th seeded UNLV. This is a juicy match-up as the Runnin’ Rebels (24-8) are coached by former Illinois headmaster Lon Kruger. Kruger coached at Illinois for four seasons, compiling an 81-48 record and leading the Illini to three NCAA Tournament appearances. After toiling in the NBA for several years, Kruger returned to the collegiate ranks in 2004 when he got hired by UNLV.
I haven’t seen a single minute of this Runnin’ Rebels squad, but their resume is pretty solid. They boast victories over Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and Kansas State. They also took 2nd seeded San Diego St. down to the wire twice. They ended the season with an RPI of 26 and SOS of 33. In contrast, the Illini had an RPI of 45 and SOS of 19.
UNLV is led by guard Tre’Von Willis (13.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) and forward Chace Stanback (13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg). They aren’t that great of a shooting team (46% fg, 33% 3fg), but play very solid defense (62.6 oppg). They also aren’t a very big team, meaning the Illini will have a size advantage in the post. Whether Illinois takes advantage of this is anybody’s guess.
I expect this to be a tough, grind it out affair. Both teams have the ability to play stifling defense, so points will come at a premium. Illinois MUST take care of the ball, which has been a problem in close games all year. If they can do this and execute down the stretch, they can win (sounds obvious, I know).
If the Illini somehow manage to muster up a win, they have another former coach staring them in the face (coincidence selection committee? I think not!). And this guy is hated in Illini Nation. This would of course be Bill Self and his 1st seeded Kansas Jayhawks. I know for a fact that every Illinois fan wants a shot at ole Bucknell Bill. But last time I looked ahead to a top ranked team, the Illini tanked. So I will just leave that alone for now, and hope for a win over UNLV.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.