Wisch: Why Tonight Isn’t Do or Die For The Illini

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Well, tonight is it for Illinois basketball.

At least, if you ask Mike Tisdale.

“I realize if we don’t win, we’re not going to make the tournament,” the Illini’s senior center Mike Tisdale told the Tribune about this evening’s game at Minnesota (8 p.m., ESPN). “There’s no bracketology to it, it’s win or go home.”

But, is it, really?

While Tisdale’s urgency is admirable, the answer is: No, it’s not. Not yet. And let me remind you why:


That’s how many teams will make the NCAA Tournament this year – up three from the accustomed 65, and a fact that many amateur bracketologists projecting Illinois’ postseason hopes seem to be forgetting about this winter.

Now, without a doubt, the long backs of Tisdale and his Illini teammates are to the wall, and Illinois (15-8, 5-5 Big Ten) has underachieved mightily so far this season. But, as ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Wednesday night while discussing the current mediocrity of the entire college basketball landscape, “This year, they have to give out 68 bids.”

That means there are three more at-large berths than before, which means potential bubble teams like Illinois have more margin for error than last year.

If the enlarged bracket existed in 2010, Illinois – with its 10-8 Big Ten record – almost certainly would have been invited to the Big Dance. This year, it’s conceivable that the Illini could even slip in to the tourney with even a 9-9 conference mark. And that’s why it’s important for Illinois fans to become familiar with the phrase “The First Four.”

That’s the name the NCAA conjured up when it last April when it announced that the Men’s Basketball Tournament would be expanded from 65 to 68 teams and that Turner Sports would partner with CBS to televise every game live on CBS, TNT, TBS or truTV.

The “First Four” games in the tournament will be held in Dayton, with doubleheaders on Tuesday, March 15, and Wednesday, March 16. The field of 64 then will assemble across the country as normal on March 17 and 18.

The “First Four” will work this way: There will be two games between what the tournament committee determines are the final four at-large teams and two games matching teams on the 16-seed line (in other words, the supposed four weakest teams in the field).

After the “First Four,” the two surviving at-large teams likely will be on the 11- or 12-seed lines vs. either a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The winners of the other games will play No. 1 seeds. The Wednesday winners will not play until Friday, while the Tuesday winners could play Thursday or Friday.

Any team that wins a “First Four” games will have to win three grueling games in one week just to reach the Sweet 16. That won’t be easy. But it will still be better to be part of the “First Four” than the “Last One Out.”

On Wednesday evening, ESPN anchor John Anderson said, “With 68 bids, there’s plenty for everybody these days.”
Maybe even for Illinois.

Win or lose, this evening.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Why Tonight Isnt Do or Die For The Illini

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Thanks for the “chill-pill” Dave…solid analysis as usual.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Thanks, Arse. I’m as frustrated as anyone with the Illini at this point. But, the fact is, they still have a solid shot of making the NCAAs — one way or another.

    At this point, they do at least.

  • Dan cedusky

    they are running out of time…can’t lose too many more..
    it’s time to make a run..or stay home

  • Tom W.

    The sad part of this is that just making the tournament has become the goal for this Illini club. 6 weeks ago, the Sweet 16 (or even further) was the goal. I’m not sure what disappoints me more…the fact that Illinois is in this position, or that people seem to be accepting of it.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I’m not accepting of it at all, Tom. And I hope no other fans would be, either. Making the tournament every season should be a given for Illinois, not a goal.

      But the fact is, this is where this team currently stands. And the team simply is not as good as people — including myself — projected it to be this season. It’s a bubblish team, no matter how much people might want it to be something more.

      Perhaps Illinois will suddenly turn it on and rip off a lengthy winning streak, but I think we all know the schedule and the team’s erratic road play this season make that outcome highly unlikely.

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  • Tom H

    I moved to California before the season, so I’ve not been able to see the Iliini play a lot this year. If you could put your finger on one thing that seems to be holding them back, what do you think it would be?

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Hey Tom, I don’t that it’s as simple as just one thing. But if I had to name just one thing it would be this: Illinois’ seniors — while each talented in his own way — just aren’t good enough to win games on the road.

      They aren’t strong enough to hold their own in the paint and they aren’t quick enough to play great defense. McCamey, Tisdale, Davis and Cole all are very good shooters, and can thrive at home, but with unfamiliar baskets on the road, when shots aren’t falling as well, they aren’t good at creating offense. Only Demetri can get his own shot, and he’s fallen into a major slump.

      Bruce Weber did not recruit well four years ago, and he shouldn’t have brought in three skinny guys like Tisdale, Davis and Cole in one class. That was a mistake. And I think Illinois’ problem is that its veterans just are not as tough and strong as other team’s veterans (Illinois also has zero juniors, a direct result of the post-Eric Gordon recruiting drought). They are what they are.

  • http://www.worldcyberleague.net/forums/viewthread/876/ Jae Dann

    Useful to me. niouwhgfd

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