Location: Champaign, IL
Nickname: Fighting Illini
Conference: Big Ten
Last Year’s Record: 24-10
Why they’ll make it: Don’t expect this Illinois team to be any different from last years. That means they’ll still play lock-down defense. The Fighting Illini held its opponents to just over 57 points-per-game. That’s quite a feat even in the rugged Big Ten. Holding its foes to under 40% from the floor, the Illini rode its defense to #5 seed in the Big Dance last season. They have some quality upperclassmen returning who have bought into Coach Bruce Weber’s system. They may not be a team of stars, but they know how to win games. The Illini snuck up on people last season, but this year, the Big Ten and everyone else is aware of the Illini’s not-so-secret weapon.
Why they won’t make it: This team struggled to score last season. While four players averaged double-figures in points last season, no one scored over 11.5 points-per-game. Among the other players on the roste, no one averaged at least six points-per-game. That lack of production became the Illini’s achilles heel and it was part of the reason they made an early exit from the NCAA tournament. This team even lost a game by the score of 38-33 last season. The style of play in the Big Ten lends itself to low-scoring, but something has got to give for the Illini. If they’re unable to score more points consistently, they may not even see the Big Dance this season.