Minnesota Devoe Joseph (5) falls to the floor under pressure from Illinois’ Demetri McCamey (32) and Mike Davis (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game last month. The Illini found out this week that the team would play in the
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois got a rude reminder that life outside the NCAA tournament is nothing like life in it. The Illini missed the NCAAs for the second time in three seasons and, even with a top seed in the NIT, they won’t be able to open the consolation tournament at home. Disappointed didn’t quite capture the feeling for Illini players and coach Bruce Weber. “I think it would be an understatement to say it’s been a tough day,” Weber said. “I don’t think we have anyone to blame except ourselves, when it comes down to it.” Weber declined to criticize the NCAA tournament selection committee, but said he thinks Illinois is one of the 40 or so best teams in the country. And, while calling for expansion of the NCAA tournament to 96 teams, he said his team shouldn’t be penalized for all those late-season losses because four were to ranked teams. “No one had a tougher finish to the season,” he said. The Illini are just five seasons removed from a trip to the NCAA final – in Weber’s first season – where they lost to North Carolina. They’ve been to the NCAAs eight times in the past 10 seasons. Illinois’ last trip to the NIT was in 1996, Lou Henson’s last season as coach, and it ended with a first-round loss to Alabama.