Illinois misses NCAA tournament, opens NIT on road
Illinois got a rude reminder Sunday night that life outside the
NCAA tournament is nothing like life in it.
The Illini missed the NCAAs for the second time in three seasons
and, even with a top seed in the NIT, they won’t be able to open
the consolation tournament at home.
Assembly Hall in Champaign is booked Wednesday night for a
performance by Cirque du Soleil. The Illini (19-14) will begin the
NIT on Wednesday night at America East Conference regular-season
champion Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y.
Disappointed didn’t quite capture the feeling for Illini players
and coach Bruce Weber.
“I think it would be an understatement to say it’s been a tough
day,” Weber said. “I don’t think we have anyone to blame except
ourselves, when it comes down to it.”
Weber declined to criticize the NCAA tournament selection
committee, but said he thinks Illinois is one of the 40 or so best
teams in the country. And, while calling for expansion of the NCAA
tournament to 96 teams, he said his team shouldn’t be penalized for
all those late-season losses because four were to ranked teams.
“No one had a tougher finish to the season,” he said.
The Illini are just five seasons removed from a trip to the NCAA
final – in Weber’s first season – where they lost to North
Carolina. They’ve been to the NCAAs eight times in the past 10
On Wednesday, Illinois will face Stony Brook (22-9) in an arena
on Long Island that seats about 1,700 people.
Neither Weber nor his players knew much about the Seawolves. And
none of them sounded sure the Illini would be able to shake Sunday
“We’ll see,” forward Bill Cole said. “The guys were extremely
disappointed in the locker room. It’ll be tough to get out of the
mindset of disappointment.”
Illinois’ last trip to the NIT was in 1996, Lou Henson’s last
season as coach, and it ended with a first-round loss to