The Fighting Illini mens basketball team got its ticket punched, as expected, to the big dance, the NCAA tournament. Illinois is back in the national championship tourney after a year off. The Fighting Illini (22-12) drew a seventh seed and will open Friday afternoon at 3:40 pm against Colorado (21-11) in an East Regional game in Austin, Texas, of all places.
Playing for the national title is a nice accomplishment for first year head coach John Groce. His team started white hot, 12-0 out of the chute, then went into a funk when the rugged Big 10 schedule began. Illinois struggled to a 2-7 conference start, when a last-second Tyler Griffey lay up upset then-number-one Indiana at Assembly Hall in February to fuel a rebirth of the floundering season.
Illinois beat two number one tournament seeds (Indiana and Gonzaga) this season, so it's capable of beating anyone on a given day. If the Illini can beat Colorado in the opener, they would likely face second-seeded Miami on Sunday. Good luck to Peoria native D.J. Richardson and the rest of the Fighting Illini this week.