Monday, March 9, 2009
Big Ten tournament: First round is Thursday, second Friday, third Saturday, and championship Sunday.
Illinois will be strongly favored in their match-up vs. Michigan or Iowa, but facing (potentially) Purdue in the semifinals won't be an easy task. The tournament is in Indianapolis, just an hour from Purdue's campus, and it's always difficult to beat a team three times in one season.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has Illinois as a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Dropping the game vs. Purdue could put the Illini closer to the middle of the tourney pack as a 6 or 7 seed, but going deep into the Big Ten tournament could reward them with a 4 or 5 seed, especially if they make a statement by beating Michigan State in the championship game.
Illinois has lost three of their last five games, and it would be nice to see them gain some momentum with a successful Big Ten tournament. It would also be nice to see someone step up as a "go-to" guy, as they've been faltering late in games recently. If they don't take a step forward this week, I'm not sure they'll be making a whole lot of Illi-noise in the big tournament. But it should be fun either way; the conference tourneys provide a nice little appetizer to the madness that will ensue.