Illini Visit "Beantown"
The Illini Basketball team will visit historic Boston on Wednesday night to play in a first-round NIT matchup with Boston University.
That wasnt necessarily the goal when John Groce gathered his team for practice in September, but after a bruising Big Ten Conference season , the fact that the Illini are in any kind of postseason play is a real testament to the character and toughness of the team.
I think most people wrote off posteason play somewhere around February 1st when the Illini went through a streak where they lost 10 of 11 games. The offense had stalled out and while the defense was allowing the Illini to stay in games, the offense wasnt scoring enough points to win those games.
But with the lineup change at Penn State that inserted freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the lineup , the dynamic of the team slowly began to change and the Illini won 5 of their last 7 games. The only losses down the stretch came against outright Big Ten Champion Michigan, including a one-point loss last Friday to the Wolverines in the Big Ten quarterfinals in Indianapolis.
With the new lineup, an offense that was struggling to score 50 points a game suddenly was able to more consistently score 60 points. With Nunn and Hill learning what needed to be done on defense the overall defensive effort anchored by Nanna Egwu got really stingy, holding 4 straight teams to under 50 points, including eventual Big Ten Tournament Champion and Final 4 favorite Michigan State in East Lansing.
Combine all of the above with the fact that former starters Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey are now bringing experience off the bench, the Illini have found a way to be playing their best basketball at the end of the season.
We find out Wednesday night if that improved play allows the Illini to make a deep run in the NIT all the way to New York City's Madison Square Garden in early April. But with their recent solid play, they are giving themselves a chance to do so.
Talk to you Wednesday night from right down the street from Fenway Park in Boston!