Well, my beloved Fighting Illini didn't make the 2010 NCAA tournament. I was bummed they didn't get in, but I had a feeling they wouldn't. I don't think coach Weber ever thought they were going to make it either. They have never gotten much respect from the NCAA - always getting lower than deserved seeds (imho) - so it's not surprising.
Unfortunately a #1 seed in the NIT tournament just doesn't mean much. And... I will say this... I don't expect these Illini to do much in the NIT. All year they have played "down" to their competition, and I just can't see them having the mental fortitude to get up for any NIT opponents. I really think they could beat anybody, but I wouldn't be surprised if they lost their first game. Though I will also say, not being able to play at home will probably be good for them. Lately they have played their best basketball away from the Assembly Hall (or maybe it's that they've played their worst at home). So it's probably a good thing there was a scheduling conflict and they're on the road.
I think it's a mental thing with them. It's like they can't live up to anyone else's expectations of them or something. At times they look like the number one team in the country, but they seem content to just be "good enough." And that so often bites you in the butt at the end of a game. All season they seemed to have a lingering "attitude" problem too. I've never been quite sure where it was coming from. Some of it seemed to show in the game against Wisconsin last week. Dominique Keller was sent into the game for about 10 seconds, he let a guy blow by him for a layup, and Weber pulled him out. Weber immediately went over with a clipboard to show him what he did, and Keller wouldn't even acknowledge him. So I was glad that Weber just got up, walked away, and Keller hasn't played since then! I probably would have sent him to the locker room on the spot.
Dominique is the only player they will lose from this team next year (that we know of now at least). I guess Bubba Chisolm is a senior too, but he started the year as a walk-on. So there is potential that these guys could be good next year. And they are supposed to have a good recruiting class, plus they had a good kid red-shirting due to injury this year. McCamey, Tisdale, and Davis will all be seniors next year, which should be a good thing. But who knows how they will react. They are an odd sort of characters. So much talent, but they can so disappear from games.
Demetri McCamey is a hard one to figure out. Sometimes he looks like an all-American, and other times it's like he doesn't seem to 'understand' the game. Mike Davis is even worse. He has perhaps the most potential (athleticism) of anyone on the team, but it seems to be a total head thing with him. He can't seem to sustain intensity on either end of the court. If he could... whoa, look out. Mike Tisdale did get more solid as the year progressed. Being over 7' tall has its limitations athletically though. I do think he will make a good sub in the NBA. He's just never going to be a superstar. Bill Cole and Jeff Jordan bring good energy, but I look for their playing time to decrease next year.
The three freshmen who played this year could all end up being good if they continue to improve. D.J. Richardson was great for a freshmen, and it would be nice to see him take on some more leadership. Brandon Paul started off like gang-busters, and I think he will do alright. He has tons of talent, but like the older players, I'm just not sure about his understanding of the game. That seems to be the case with a lot of the Chicago players. They're all about talent, but they can't get off the playground. Tyler Griffey also showed some promising signs this year now and then. If he could get a little stronger he could get some quality minutes.
I will be interested to see how the incoming freshmen do too. Myers Leonard is another 7-footer similar to Tisdale (tall, skinny, small high school). Rumor has it he is a little meaner though, and that is something desperately needed on this team. I have my doubts about Jereme Richmond. Tons of talent, but I think he's the kid who has been kicked off a couple of high school teams. Guys like this just never seen to work out in Champaign. I hope I'm wrong. And who knows about Crandall Head. He sat out this year with a knee injury, so anything could happen. I am hoping this year's red-shirt - Joe Bertrand - can come back from his knee problems. A 6' 5" guard will be a nice addition.
But I guess I shouldn't get ahead of myself. There is still basketball to be played this year, and hopefully the Illini players feel that way too. They really could win this NIT, if they want to. So I should probably get my bracket filled out. I had a hard time even finding a printable NIT bracket. It should be innaresting. Go Illini!