By Dave Wischnowsky–
It’s filled with potential potholes and a bunch of hazard cones (orange ones, of course), and the only exit ramp off it leads straight back to Champaign. But, on Sunday night, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee laid out a Road to Redemption for the University of Illinois’ jalopy of a basketball season that couldn’t be more clear.
Or more messy.
You wanted Madness, Illini Nation?
Well, you got it.
“It ran through my mind: ‘Oh, they set this up.’ And they probably did,” Illini senior Mike Davis said Sunday evening after the NCAA’s tourney pranksters matched No. 9 Illinois vs. ex-coach Lon Kruger and No. 8 UNLV in Friday’s first round, followed by a potential match-up with ex-coach Bill Self and No. 1 Kansas on Sunday.
“I heard coach (Bruce Weber) say they like to add a little bit of drama to March Madness,” Davis continued. “It is what it is.”
And what it is is delicious. Or disastrous.
You know, depending on your perspective.
On Sunday night after Illinois’ bracket was unveiled, one of my old college buddies from U of I tilted toward the latter when he sent a text message that read: “At least we can’t lose to both coaches!”
I laughed. Because, for Illinois’ stressed-out fan base, he’s right. But, can you imagine if the Illini somehow managed to beat both Kruger and Self, instead?
If you want to redeem a season (and a senior class), restart a basketball powerhouse (while embarrassing a rival one) and reclaim your program’s pride (along with your own), well, that’s how you do it.
Now, certainly, the notion of Illinois’ inconsistent seniors and embattled head coach – who haven’t cobbled together back-to-back victories since the first week of January – finding a way to upset both UNLV and Kansas in the span of three days seems pretty far-fetched. Hoop Dreams, if you will.
But, hey, it’s March, the most magical time of the year – just ask Cinderella – and stranger things have happened. So, why shouldn’t the Illini roll the dice like a UNLV booster and dream big?
At least until reality hits.
While it could all end in embarrassment, the fact is that the Selection Committee couldn’t have given Illinois a better or more exciting opportunity to transform a sadsack season into a successful one.
Now, it’s up to the Illini to take advantage of it. Or not.
“This is your last gasp,” Weber said on Sunday night. “If you’re going to make any mark, you have to do it now.”
There’s one more chance for these seniors to show that they can put the Fighting in Illini. And, this weekend could set up for some truly remarkable basketball drama in the Land of Lincoln.
The only bummer in the whole thing is that former Illini coach Lou Henson isn’t still coaching at New Mexico State.
He would have made a nice Sweet 16 opponent.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
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.