Tourney preview: Illinois

Tourney preview: Illinois

All day, we'll break down each team's chances at the Big Ten tournament at the United Center:

No 8 seed: Illinois

Their coach ... is a tournament beast. John Groce got the Illinois job because of his March miracle in ‘12, leading Ohio to the Mid-American tourney title and reaching the Sweet 16 by beating Michigan and South Florida.

Their MVP ... is from Peoria, which hasn’t produced a team MVP since Frank Williams in 2002. D.J. Richardson (above) ends that drought because of his scoring, defense and leadership.

Their Chicago connection ... they know every nook and cranny of the United Center. No team in the field has played as many games there, the Illini going 15-5 in Big Ten tourney games and 33-11 overall.

They’ll cut down the nets if ... Tubby Smith really isn’t worried about his job. And Indiana doesn’t guard Tyler Griffey again. And they end a five-game losing streak to Michigan. And Thad Matta plays nice and lets good friend Groce celebrate a title.

They’ll be bummed if ... all 20,000-plus seats at the United Center aren’t filled with folks in orange. During the glory days of Bill Self and Bruce Weber, the Illini dominated Chicago by winning 18 in a row at their second home. But Indiana might have as many fans this week.

We see the Illini ... getting a No. 9 seed and opening against North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament. A quarterfinal loss to Indiana prevents Illinois from playing on Saturday for the third consecutive year — the longest drought in school history.

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