Was that all just an excuse to lead in with that smarmy photo of Disco John Travolta? Yes. Yes it was.
But it still needs to be said that, after 29 games, the Illinois Fighting Illini men’s college basketball team still is hanging around the NCAA tournament picture.
And even better, their case for a bid continues to get stronger.
In case you were wondering…that’s not a real great winning percentage.
The Illini also continue to have to answer questions about the heart and dedication of their seniors, Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole.
For this game, anyway (an 81-68 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes), the seniors really answered the bell: Davis, McCamey and Tis combined for 63 points, a career-high combined total for the three players. Perhaps even more impressive, they accomplished the feat on 25-of-37 shooting from the field, 67.5 percent.
“Everyone has really been hammering us since the beginning of the season, talking, ‘Seniors this, seniors this, seniors that, the seniors aren’t stepping up,'” Illinois forward Mike Davis said. “We took it as a challenge, us four, to come out and play well. We thought that we had been playing well as a group the last couple of games, but we really wanted to come out tonight and shut people up. ”
Davis continued on, and spoke about the leadership he and his mates had shown.
“Our seniors are here and we’re here to step up and lead this team to a big seed. We’re going to take it one game at a time and try to go up to Purdue on Tuesday and get a big win.”
The merits of going anywhere, winning anything and getting a big seed probably are a little debatable — if the Illini get in, at this point, they seem destined for the 8-10 seed range — but it bears mentioning that the Illini still do control their own destiny.
If the Illini split their last two games with a loss at Purdue and a win in the regular season finale at home against Indiana, most prognosticators believe that will be enough to send them dancing.
I still — and you can call it a hunch — don’t believe that their tournament profile is healthy enough for that to be sufficient. I feel as though, with that split, they’ll need a win in the Big Ten tournament as well, and that that would be enough.
It seems, however, that the team and head coach Bruce Weber are taking things one game at a time, and legitimately so this time.
“Oh there’s no doubt we had to win,” Weber said. “You have a home game against a team that is below you in the standings, you gotta get a win.”
“Michigan goes up to Minnesota and gets a win today, and, you know, every game is important,” Weber continued. “Even Purdue, hey I know it’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to find a way to go there and get a victory. You do something like that, then you’ve got to feel like you’re in pretty good shape.”
Paul Schmidt is a senior contributor and media relations director for the Sports Bank, and is entering his tenth year of writing about sports in Chicago and Illinois.Follow paulmbanks