Illini get Tourney Win, Need to Beat a Higher Seed

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It was a pretty sweet NCAA Tourney win for the Illinois Fighting Illini last night. They absolutely crushed UNLV, and former Illinois Coach Lon Kruger in game that was much more lopsided than the final box score indicates.

And it was their first Tournament win in a half decade. That pretty much makes this season the most successful one in Champaign since 2006. For one night/day at least, all the underachieving, disappointment and failed expectations are put on ice, as this Illini team finally played up to their potential, and showed us what they’re truly capable of.

Now they have to do it again- against a higher seed. And another former Coach in Bill Self.

By Paul M. Banks

Demetri McCamey Illinois

The #1 seed Kansas Jayhawks are a tough out to say the least. Led by the Morris twins they are as formidable a second round opponent as you’ll find. However, they’ve had some issues on the opening weekend of the tournament in recent years (see Bucknell, Northern Iowa).

On the other side, the Illini don’t exactly beat higher seeds all that often. In fact, they’ve only done it twice, last night the first instance- 2004; and it was only a #5 beating a #4, the Cincinnati Bearcats. This moment was immortalized in the old MTV reality show “The Newlyweds.” Nick Lachey was a huge Bearcats fan, and one episode showcased his disappointment as he watched the Illini slaughter Cincy by 30 that day.

Illinois is second in the Big Ten all-time in NCAA appearances with 29; They are 39-29 all-time in March Madness. And only the Indiana Hoosiers have more tourney appearances and wins among Big Ten teams. Illinois was a #1 seed in 2005, 2001 and 1989. And in all three, they eventually lost to an even or lower seed. And the program has experienced plenty of losing to lower seeded teams.

They were a victim of the dreaded #12 over #5 at the hands of Western Kentucky in 2009. And almost pulled the upset in 2007, with the roles reversed in 2007. As a #12, and one of the last teams in, they took #5 Virginia Tech to OT. Things have not gone well for the Hokies since- as you probably know. They went out as #4 to a #5 in 2003 (Notre Dame Fighting Irish) and 2006 (Washington Huskies). But the most devastating upset was probably in the ’80s, the “Flyin’ Illini” era as they were a #3 and fell to #14 Austin Peay.

Sunday night, the Illini have a chance to even that out. And administer some karmic payback.

However, even if they don’t pull of the upset, it’s already been a successful season (at least by post-2006 standards) because the senior class finally won something.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

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