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Bubble Watch: Illinois Fighting Illini Need To Win One More Game

Illinois Fighting Illini Brandon Paul Ohio State Buckeyes Lenzell Smith Jr

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Fighting Illini play in arguably the toughest basketball conference in the nation: the Big 10. The Illini have one of the toughest schedules in the nation. They go into the weekend with a 21-10 record, but with a losing record in conference play. The Big 10 is guaranteed to send five programs to the NCAA Tournament. The Illini are the sixth team and hoping for that one extra spot in.

It’s been an up and down season of two halves for the program out of Champaign. The program only had one non-conference loss in the first half of the season to nationally ranked Missouri. Wins came against Butler and new number one Gonzaga in Spokane. Then conference play started and the squad has gone only 8-9 the rest of the way. They play their last regular season game at Ohio State, which will most likely be a loss.

That will leave the team with a 21-11 record going into the Big 10 Tournament. Sitting in the sixth place will give them an easy first round game against lowly Northwestern. All the Illini need to do is win that game and make the next round of the conference tournament.

If the team finishes with a 22-11 record, then the tournament committee has to give the Illini a spot into the tourney. The committee likes to reward schools that play in the toughest conferences with the toughest schedules and the Illini fit that bill.

The only way they don’t make the tournament is if they lose at Ohio State and then lose their first round conference tourney game to a team that won’t be invited to any post season tournament. The committee will have no choice but to pick another team from another conference.

So that’s how simple it is. The Illini either have to upset Ohio State in Columbus or win their first round game in their conference tournament. If they don’t do either, then it might be off to the NIT.

Shahab Khan is a Basketball and NCAA Columnist with Rant Sports

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