Prediction: 69-67, Final Four favorite Kansas loses on Mar. 20
No, this is not an article predicting the specific score of the Illinois-Kansas game, but the score that should give the Illini some hope. It will be one year since Kansas was stunned by Northern Iowa, wrecking many brackets as well as the hearts of the Jayhawks faithful.
Kansas has the distinction of being the only school in history that has lost three times as a No. 1 seed in the round of 32. Can it happen a fourth time? Here are the reasons why it will happen.
The Planets Are Aligned
Bill Self is back in a town he coached in (Tulsa), coaching against a team he coached (Illini), in a round he lost in last year. Those Illini fans who still hold a grudge against Self bolting after three years will get a chance to finally laugh. This matchup had to be on the selection committee's mind when they put this potential showdown together.
Bruce Weber Needs This Win
Weber has been on the hot seat for his lack of success the past four seasons. A win over Kansas would put the Illini in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they made their run to the title game in 2005.
Davis and McCamey's Redemption
After last season, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey explored the possibility of entering the NBA draft. They both decided to return and it was hoped that the senior duo, along with a group of returning players, would be a special team. While ranked early in the season, the Illini have struggled and there were doubts about their even making the dance.
Mike Davis had his best game of the season in the second-round tilt with UNLV (22 points, nine rebounds, five assists). McCamey has started to look like the player the Orange Crush expected to have on the court the last eight games as he has scored in double digits and has started to distribute the ball effectively. Like Davis, he had one of his best games of the season against the Runnin' Rebels.
A win against Kansas would allow the fans to forget the struggles of the season and allow them to finally feel proud about their Illini tenure.
Kansas Is Slow Out of the Gate in March
The above-mentioned reasons are good for conversation and personal motivation, but not a lot more. But looking for solid reasons, one just needs to look at Kansas' performances in March.
In its six games played this month, Kansas has either been behind or leading by less than five in five of them. You don't want to give Illini hope. While they have struggled in the second half in key games, the fact that the longer they are allowed to stay in the game, the more likely the senior-laden squad will keep fighting. Kansas will have to come out quickly to break the Illini's spirit and keep them out of the game.
The Level of Play for the Illini and Kansas
For good or bad, the Illini keep things close and they play to the level of their competition. In 12 of their 13 losses they were within six points with 2:00 or less left to play. Only Ohio State has put the Illini away early. If the teams play as they have this month, Illinois will be in the game late.
Kansas has been dominant this season, going 33-2. However, when the game is close, the Jayhawks have struggled, going 3-2 over their last 17. Also, explosive guards have hurt Kansas. In the two games they have lost they have allowed big games from the guard position. McCamey has shown that he can be explosive, so the potential is there.
Mike and Mike Against the Morris Brothers
This is not some contest on ESPN2 with Greeny and Golic, but Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale against the All-Americans Marcus and Markieff Morris. If the Illini are to have a chance, Mike and Mike have to show the inside and outside shooting they possess while trying to slow down two of the best inside players in the country.
If one of the two Mikes can get hot on the outside it can give the Illini a chance to hit the boards. Also, if the lanky duo can use their height and length to force the Morrises to dish off or take bad shots, a game could be in order.
The argument, while not the strongest, has been made. Any and all of the above could happen and we could see the Jayhawks faithful traveling up US-169 wondering what might have been. This is why they play the game.
March Madness. Got to love it.