The St. Louis Cardinals are huge in Champaign-Urbana. They compete with primarily the Chicago Cubs, but also the White Sox to be the favorite MLB team in the community dominated by the University of Illinois campus. The Cards do come first though, and perhaps Illini coach Bruce Weber knew that when he made his appeal to Illini Nation that his team’s post-season chances aren’t dead.
“How many times in that last week did you not think the Cardinals weren’t going to make the playoffs?” Weber asked the media following his team’s home loss to the #13 Michigan Wolverines.
“And yet they got in and didn’t even have to play the extra game, and they ended up winning the thing. A lot of things can happen but you have to go earn it,” he continued.
Weber is of course speaking of Major League Baseball’s most recent champion, as the Cardinals over came a lackluster regular season to win the World Series; doing so in extremely exciting fashion. It also sounds like he’s describing the 2006 World Series Champion Cardinals, who went 83-79, and barely got into the postseason. That St. Louis team had about as poor a record as a champion can have.
But hey, there is a NCAA Regional in St. Louis this year.
Weber was asked if the loss Thursday eliminated his team from NCAA Tournament at-large discussion.
“No, I think you have to win at Wisconsin, and then win a couple games in the Big Ten Tournament but I don’t know. I haven’t studied it that closely,” he responded.
Those who have studied it closely, along with most fans, know the Illini have no chance. Even if they do pick up a “signature win” at the Wisconsin Badgers on Sunday, it’s too little too late. Illinois has an RPI in 80s and is way under .500 in conference. Their at-large hopes ended with that horrible loss at Nebraska.
Weber was just saying the right things.
Illini center Meyers Leonard still thinks there’s hope.
“Absolutely, as far as the Big Ten goes, we can beat Wisconsin on the road, not only that, we have the Big Ten Tournament. I don’t know why everyone looks at us as some different team, like we’re not capable, but we are,” he said.
The only hope is to run the table in the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois looks locked into the #9 seed, meaning they’ll play the loser of Iowa/Northwestern game on Saturday, in an early morning game on the tourney’s first day. If they win, they get the #1 seed, most likely Michigan State, in the early game that Friday. And then of course, win two more.
On the bright side, Illinois has the most wins and the highest winning percentage in BTT history, and they are the only school to have ever advanced to or automatically qualified for the bye round of the tourney quarterfinals.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.Follow paulmbanks