Illini Wonk
Monday, March 13, 2006
  Illinois to NCAA: huh?
After an undefeated pre-conference season that included wins against Georgetown and at media-favorite North Carolina. After a second-place finish (by one game) in the toughest conference in the nation (according to the RPI). After a quarterfinal exit in their conference tournament similar to exits by Connecticut and Tennessee. After all that, the Illini received a No. 4 seed and 2,000 mile trip to San Diego.


Now, before Wonk goes any further, let me just say that there's not much of a difference between a 3 and a 4 seed. Last year, Louisville advanced to the final weekend with a 4 seed so it's not out of the question. The point is simply that this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Committee obviously had some hallucinogenics served in their ice cream.

According to Mark Tupper, the Illini team reacted with mild disappointment when the No. 4 seed was revealed. It was a little disappointing said junior guard Rich McBride.

But what about the pundits? They can't understand it either. Gregg Doyel at CBS Sportsline says that Illinois got hosed by being sent to San Diego to face two lower seeds from the west. According to Frank Burlison of, Illinois was seeded two low and is playing much better right now than Tennessee and Texas.

For the sake of argument, let's just stay in the Washington DC Region where Illinois is playing. Here's the resume's of the 2-4 seeds, with the best in bold:

Tennessee: 6
UNC: 8
Illinois: 9

Conference RPI
Tennessee: 4
UNC: 3
Illinois: 1

Tennessee: 21-7
UNC: 22-7
Illinois: 25-6

Record (last ten)
Tennessee: 6-4
UNC: 8-2
Illinois: 6-4

Record vs. RPI Top-50
Tennessee: 4-4
UNC: 7-4
Illinois: 9-5

Losses outside RPI Top-50
Tennessee: 3
UNC: 3
Illinois: 1

After looking through that list, which order would you rank those three teams? Mark Tupper explains how Illinois received a No. 4 seed: Iowa, projected to be a No. 4 seed, could be elevated if it beat Ohio State in the title game. And the easy swap was to simply drop Illinois, tentatively penciled in as a No. 3 seed, into Iowa's No. 4 spot. Illini Wonk's explanation: the committee clearly didn't care that Illinois played in the toughest conference in the nation. There's no other way to explain the No. 4 seed.

I will make one promise: Illini Wonk will not bring this up again. I've moved on. The Committee is human. In his recent book on the Final Four, Last Dance, John Feinstein details some of the mistakes and controversies of committee's past. It was interesting to be reading Feinstein's book during this year's selection process (review forthcoming).

Finally, as Rick Telander pointed out, Illinois is dangerous and undervalued. The ranking doesn't mean they can't win. It just means that they'll have to play that much better.
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