Illinois has one last chance to prove it's worthy of NCAA bid

March 09, 2010|By Shannon Ryan On college basketball

There can't be another team with bigger sweat rings than Illinois.

Plenty of teams, such as Villanova and Kansas State, will work this week for a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tournament. Ohio State has a chance with a big run in the Big Ten to earn a No. 1 seed.

Then there is a team like Illinois, which just wants in.

Actually there are few teams like Illinois. The Illini have lost five of six and coach Bruce Weber can't figure out where his team's sense of urgency went.

Plenty of bracketologists think it comes down to Illinois' first-round Big Ten tournament game against Wisconsin. Win, you're in. Lose, you're out.

Here are teams sweating it out as we dash through a week of conference tournaments to Selection Sunday:

Last four in
Georgia Tech (18-11, RPI 44) The Yellow Jackets have won only three of their last nine, but their body of work is superior to many bubble teams. They own victories against Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest. A 5-9 road record isn't going to impress the selection committee, so Georgia Tech may need to cause a raucous in the ACC tournament. With a No. 7 seed, the Yellow Jackets face No. 10 North Carolina in the first round. They already beat the Tar Heels twice this season. With a victory, they'd face No. 2 seed Maryland.

Mississippi (21-9, RPI 57) Ole Miss is looking strong at the end of the season, beating Arkansas without guard Eniel Polynice, who is suspended indefinitely. A 9-5 road record is a plus as well. Ole Miss has a victory against Kansas State to lean on along with another against UTEP.

Notre Dame (21-10, RPI 59) The way coach Mike Brey looks at it, the Irish are a lock. More people are agreeing. Now it's up to the selection committee. Notre Dame will have limited action from injured star forward Luke Harangody. The Irish earn credit for going 4-2 without or with limited playing time from Harangody. Brey plans to use him off the bench for the rest of the season.

San Diego State (20-8, RPI 36) The Aztecs are only 3-6 against teams with top 100 RPIs, but they have a strong overall record and posted victories against New Mexico and UNLV. They enter what promises to be a tough Mountain West tournament as a No. 4 seed. They draw a favorable matchup against 16-14 Colorado State, which San Diego State already beat twice by double digits this season.

First four out
Dayton (19-11, RPI 51) The Flyers are crashing. They lost four of five and dropped two games to St. Louis. They have some earlier quality wins against Xavier, Georgia Tech and Old Dominion that might save them, but they can't afford a first-round collapse in the Atlantic-10 tournament. They'll host George Washington in the first round.

Illinois (18-13, RPI 75) Illinois continues to perplex. The Illini blew a chance to improve their resume by losing their regular season finale to Wisconsin. A first-round loss in the Big Ten tournament could mean the Illini won't get invited to the NCAA tourney. A win, combined with earlier victories against Michigan State, at Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and at Clemson, would most likely put them in. It's do-or-die time.

Seton Hall (18-11, RPI 55) What? Another Big East team? Yep. The selection committee doesn't count berths by conference and the Pirates have built a rather impressive resume. They have victories against Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame, and they won at Cornell. If they don't make it, Seton Hall is going to be mad it couldn't pull out one of its four overtime losses.

UAB (23-7, RPI 40) Other than a victory against Butler, UAB doesn't have too much to brag about. It ended the season with losses to Memphis and UTEP, allowing both of the opponents season sweeps over the Blazers.

Top four seeds: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke.

No. 2 seeds: Ohio State, Purdue, West Virginia, New Mexico.

sryan@tribune.com

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