NIT: #2 Illinois v. #7 Valparaiso Preview & Prediction

Let’s talk about Illinois…

2016-17. What a shit year for Illinois sports. Coming into the season, all Fighting Illini fans had very high hopes for a veteran-heavy Illinois roster with tons of potential. Malcolm Hill, poised for a Big 10 POY run, Tracy Abrams’ triumphant return from his 20th ACL/Achilles/Knee surgery, and a straightened out front court. It all looked to be coming together for the once great Illini. But, like every year since 2013, we were let down. Really, the only positive takeaway from this season is the fact we fired our underachieving coach. I would say that its great that we’ve got our best recruiting class since 2011 coming in next year, but I don’t even know if the recruits will stick. I’m of the belief that recruits often commit to coaches morso than for specific programs. That’s not to say all the recruits are going to leave and follow John Groce wherever he finds a job, but unless Illinois finds a amicable, well-established coach, I’m worried. There’s light at the end of the tunnel however as Illinois AD Josh Whitman noted (on the subject of bringing back an exciting atmosphere to Assembly Hall) in his dismissal press conference Saturday, “… that was 10 years ago. And if we’re not careful, it’ll be 30 years ago. That’s what I can’t allow to happen.” Some potential rumors surrounding the head coaching vacancy include Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, and Dayton’s Archie Miller. It’s expected Illinois is willing to pay crazy money for a big name coach, so I’m going to remain optimistic for the time being.

The NIT

Congratulations Illinois, for the third time in the past four seasons, you’re now vying for 69th place. But, I guess it’s still better than nothing. While 2016-17 has been a disappointing year, the Fighting Illini have one final chance to redeem their misfortunes and that is in the form of the National Invitation Tournament. I’ll tell ya, I think Illinois got really lucky with their seeding. To be honest, any result is better than the soul-crushing crash and burn exit from the 2015 NIT. All time low losing to FUCKING ALABAMA. 79-58. Like seriously how does that even happen to a flagship basketball program for one of the best (if not the best) basketball states in the country. Anyways, over the course of the year, the only stand out wins that have come along were VCU, Michigan State, and Northwestern x2. Not very deserving of a #2 seed in my book, but I digress. Coming off a disappointing first round exit to Michigan in the Big 10 tournament, the Illini are (hopefully) fired up, wanting to give their seniors one final shot at glory. Another added bonus the Illini have this go-around at the NIT that they didn’t have last time (I feel like I’m quoting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is an actual home court to play on. Essentially this means that instead of having to play away games as the home team because the “State Farm Center” was being renovated for the 1,000th time, the Illini are actually able to have a home court advantage and play in their arena. On the flip side, #7 seed Valparaiso is without their best player, Horizon League POY and future NBA player Alec Peters, who was ruled out for the rest of the 2016-17 season after suffering a stress fracture in his leg. While this is not the end of the world for Valpo, the future certainly does not look bright. While Illinois has been in a funk lately, I expect them to pick it up and dominate the game on both ends of the floor against an all-around less dominant Valparaiso team. Expect Mav, Leron, and Mikey Thorne to have big games as there’s a wide height disparity on the Valpo roster with Peters out, with only two players over 6’7. I’m not quite sure why Valpo doesn’t play the 7’2, 240 pound freshman giant more but I’m looking forward to seeing him as they’ll probably be forced to. All in all, I’ve got Illinois mopping the floor with Valparaiso, 74-64 Illini. I-L-L.

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