The Fighting Illini basketball team gave second-seeded Miami all it could handle in the round of 32 NCAA tournament game in Austin, Texas, Sunday night. In the end, Illinois could not continue its late-game magic and fell to the ACC regular and post season champion Hurricanes, 63-59. Many hoops experts thought Miami deserved a number seed entering the tournament, and this would've been a great win for Illinois.
The loss finishes a good season for 23-13 Illinois under first-year head coach John Groce. Illinois created some great moments this season, beating NCAA tourney top seeds, Gonzaga (on the Zags home floor) and Indiana, and salvaged a season that was going South with a nice second half of the Big 10 season.
Illinois reached #10 in the national polls after its 12-0 non-conference start to the season. In addition to its win at Gonzaga, Illinois also kicked ass in a pre season Hawaii tourney, knocking off nationally ranked Butler in the Maui Invitational title game. So it was shocking when the Illini looked so bad in opening the Big 10 season 2-7. The upset of #1 ranked Indiana in early February sent them on their season-salvaging second half run in the Big 10.
The Big 10 placed four teams in the Sweet 16, and the Illini were a play or two (or a bad call or two) away from making it five teams in that elite group. This season marks the last year of a 20-year streak of Illinois having a Peoria basketball player on its roster. Senior D.J. Richardson departs, after suffering through one of his worst-shooting games of an otherwise solid season.
In the end, bravo to the 23-13 Ilini for an entertaining and successful season on Peoria's home for classic rock and Illini sports, 95.5, GLO.