Where Are the Fighting Illini As March Madness Approaches?

Taylor RobinsonCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2009

The Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team has kept its audience guessing this season with tight games, big wins, and even a record-setting low-score loss. With a 23-6 record, a power ranking of 18, and only two games left before conference tournament play, Illinois is in good position to make an NCAA tournament appearance this year.

What do they have going for them that could give Illini fans something to cheer about this March?

In the Big Ten, a general rule of thumb is to win all of your home games, at least split your road games, and make a solid appearance in the conference tournament. Illinois is 5-4 on the road overall and 4-4 on the road in the Big Ten with one road game remaining against Penn State. Yes, the same Penn State that defeated the Illini just a few weeks earlier by a score of 38-33.

Don’t expect this road game to be another record-setter though. Bruce Weber will have prepared his guys to make a much better showing this time around.

At home, the Illini are 14-2 and 7-1 in conference play. Their remaining game at Assembly Hall is against a Michigan State team that has proven itself to be consistently superior to in-conference competition thus far. Illinois lost to Michigan State on the road earlier in the season. The Illini are also 4-0 at neutral sites this season.

Important notes on this season

* Illinois has beaten a currently 17th-ranked Purdue team twice this season.

* A currently 11th-ranked Missouri team was beaten easily by the Illini in pre-conference play.

* Illinois’ first loss came in a close game with a currently 15th-ranked Clemson team. 

* The Illini have two players averaging over 40 percent on three-point shots and two players averaging over 11 points per game.

* One of the Illini’s big weaknesses is rebounding. While they do pull down a good number of defensive boards, Illinois doesn’t grab enough of their own offensive boards. If they want to do well in the NCAA tournament, they are going to have to do a better job of rebounding. 

* Another weakness lies in the Illinois players. This Illini team is full of athleticism, knowledge of the game, and hustle. Chester Frazier is without a doubt the leader of this team, but when he is on the bench, the Illini struggle to find someone to fill that void. So far Illinois has been able to find different players to fill his shoes, but one of these guys is going to need to step it up and learn to take the reins and help lead this team.

This team has proven so far that they are perfectly capable of playing at the level of any team they are facing. With improved rebounding and leadership and continued high performance of its players, Illinois should be a serious contender in the big dance.

Basketball fans, keep your eye on this Fighting Illini team.