Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:
If you check out Friday’s News-Gazette (and you should, of course), you’ll find a breakdown of Illinois’ potential for an NCAA tournament berth — a first since 2012-13 — following its win at Wisconsin on Wednesday. Most of the projected brackets from national analysts were all released before the Illini took down the Badgers in Madison, Wis.
The TourneyCast at BartTorvik.com, though, is updated every day. The Illini? They’re in. For now. Also available are résumés of other teams from the past decade-plus that are comparable to current teams. Good news for Illinois is all 10 teams with similar résumés received an at-large berth.
Here’s a breakdown of the last three:
Baylor opened the 2018-19 season with a home loss to Texas Southern and added another home loss to Stephen F. Austin as part of an 8-4 nonconference record. The Bears also lost six of their last 10 regular season games and dropped their Big 12 tournament opener. Scott Drew’s squad still made the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed, though, because it took advantage of playing in a power conference by notching just enough signature victories with seven top 50 wins. Illinois needs to do the same this season after a similarly unimpressive nonconference slate.
South Carolina 2017
The Gamecocks road a top three defense to the Final Four in the 2016-17 season, and having a couple pros in Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier helped, too. Not that it was smooth sailing. South Carolina dropped five of its final eight regular season SEC games and fell in its conference tournament opener. The Gamecocks wound up with just two top 50 wins by the end of the season, but they still turned a No. 7 seed into a Cinderella run to the national semifinals.
Big Ten play — namely a stretch of 11 wins in 12 games — got the Badgers to the NCAA tournament in the 2015-16 season. They had to go on a run like that after dropping nonconference home games to Western Illinois, Milwaukee and pre-Markus Howard Marquette and a neutral site showdown with Georgetown. Wisconsin might have lost its Big Ten tournament opener that season, but five top 50 wins in its best stretch (including Michigan State and Indiana) got the Badgers a No. 7 seed.