Seed Talk

Feb 26, 2020

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It's been forever since we've been able to talk Tourney seeds in February, so I'm going to enjoy this. Something about the ESPN anchor saying "Illinois will be back in the Tournament after missing the last six years" during the SC Top-10 segment last night (Trent's shot was #2) has me all fired up. There's been a lot of talk about the Big Ten Tournament seed (and the tiebreakers), but I want to talk NCAA Tournament seed.

OK, I'll at least slap together a paragraph on BTT seed. As I tweeted last night, this is the least I've cared about the BTT seed in I don't know how long. Not only because we no longer need BTT wins for a chance to get to the right side of the bubble, but because the Big Ten is so even this year and a matchup against the 2-seed is similar to a matchup against the 10-seed. I realize that we can improve our NCAA seed with some BTT wins, and we'll get to that in a minute, but as far as "man I hope we win this one to lock up the double-bye in the BTT", I don't find myself caring that much? I'd love to win the BTT, but I'm so laser focused on "Illinois Basketball - back in the NCAA Tournament again" that I kind of just want to get the BTT out of the way.

(Someone remind me of this when we're tied in the second half of a Saturday BTT semifinal and all I want in life is that BTT trophy.)

With that out of the way, let's talk NCAA Tournament. In the preview back in November, I wrote "flip 12-21 to 21-12". I think I also said that 21-12 felt like a 7-seed. My "goal" for this season - my break-even point - was a 10-seed. I wanted to get back to the NCAA Tournament and I wanted to not be sweating on Selection Sunday. 10-seed is a scenario where you're safely in and are kind of hoping you don't slide up to the 9 because everyone hates the 8/9 game. I think we have that safely covered.

But I'm not sure we have it covered to the point where the 7-seed or 6-seed is locked up. In fact, in the Bracket Matrix right now (100 bracketologist brackets all averaged together), we're an 8-seed. We have the easiest schedule of the 14 Big Ten teams in these final five games, so that number will likely rise for us if we take care of business, but right now, we're on that 8-9 line and would have to play a one-seed in the second round.

Which, I guess isn't all that bad? Everywhere you look this season, college basketball analysts are all talking about how there's no great teams and how you might see a 5-seed win it all. Teams like Baylor and Kansas look great, but I don't think there's a dominant team out there. In my mind, either team in the 2017 final (Villanova & North Carolina) would roll through this field winning every game by 15+. This feels like a 2011 kind of season (3-seed UConn beat 8-seed Butler in the final). So if we did fall on the 8/9 seed across from San Diego State or Gonzaga, I'm not scared of that matchup like I would be against 2017 Villanova.

(Can I just pause here to say that I cannot wait for Selection Sunday? Writing the paragraph above I thought about how we'll get to stare at the TV waiting for the word "Illinois" to pop up and we haven't been able to do that since 2013. I seriously cannot wait.)

Maybe we should go about it this way: what's our ceiling and what's our floor? We'll toss out "win the rest of our games and win the Big Ten Tournament" as well as "lose the rest of our games and end up in a play-in game" and talk about more realistic scenarios.


Let's say the ceiling is five more wins. That's either a 4-0 finish to the season (ending up 14-6 in the Big Ten) plus one BTT win, or a 3-1 finish (lose at Ohio State, probably) and then 2-1 in the BTT. In the first scenario we're 23-10 and in the second scenario we're 23-11. I think both of those probably grab a 5-seed? Maybe a 4-seed? 23-10 plus 14-6 in the toughest conference in the country really might land a 4-seed. Yes, we're still held back by the Miami and Missouri losses (plus the crazy-soft non conference schedule), so I don't think we could dream any higher, but maybe a 4-seed is possible in that scenario?

Again, we're talking ceiling here. I don't think we're capable of winning the next seven games, but maybe 6-1 is possible? That's the dream scenario.


The floor is probably a 10-seed? That would mean splitting the home games (Iowa and Indiana), splitting the road games (Northwestern and Ohio State), and losing in the first round of the BTT. That's 2 wins and 3 losses for a finish of 20-12. Or maybe, copying what I did above, maybe we go 1-3 to finish the season and then only win 1 BTT game. So that would be a 2-4 finish and 20-13.

Both of those feel like they'd be right around that 10-seed range. The committee loves road conference wins, and we already have wins at Purdue, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, and at Penn State. So at 20-12 in the toughest conference, perhaps they'd consider a 9-seed for us. But that finish probably lands a 10-seed.

My Goal

I'm focused on a 6 or a 7. I think a 3-1 finish and then one BTT win gets us a 6-maybe-5 and a 3-1 finish and a BTT one-and-done gets us a 7-maybe-6. 13-7 in this Big Ten would carry a lot of weight, as would the roadkills, so I could see a bunch of bracketologists putting us as a 7 and then we get a 6.

And I love both of those lines. Six is always a dangerous spot because the threes can be beat. Sevens can be dangerous too because twos always have a flaw (see: Miami, 2013). Gotta beat the 11 or the 10, of course, but I love both of those lines.

Overall, though, I'll mostly be smiling and saying "I'm so happy to be here". It's been way, way too long. I seriously cannot wait for this.

I think I'll go.


Topper on February 26, 2020 @ 01:21 AM

Give me a 5 seed with Auburn as the 4, or a 6 with them as the 3.

Please and Thank you!

lucasmeducas on February 26, 2020 @ 09:09 AM

As much as I would love it, unfortunately there is no way we get a 4 seed. We kissed that goodbye with home losses to Maryland and MSU. Our non-conference resume really holds us back without any top, top end wins (Maryland would have been one). I still think the road wins get us at least an 8 or 9 seed as long as we beat Northwestern and any other game. However, we really need to go 3-1 & get one win in the B1G Tourny and we'll be a 7 maaaybe a 6 if we win @Ohio State. As soft as this field is, I really don't want to run into Kansas in the 2nd game.

McAdoo on February 26, 2020 @ 09:49 AM

I agree with Lucas that it's important to get out of that 8/9 seed line because there's only one team that I'm pretty certain Illinois can't beat this year, and that team is Kansas. Which normally wouldn't be that big a deal, except the Selection Committee has shown time after time after time they care more about setting up storylines over actually getting the seeds correct, and with the Self connection if Illinois gets an 8 or a 9 the Committee is going to slot the Illini in the same bracket as Kansas.

Giovantischixstripz on February 26, 2020 @ 11:39 AM

I see it the opposite way. I'd be pumped to run into Kansas in the 2nd round. I don't believe it makes a big difference (for recruiting, for the direction of the program, etc) if we go out in the 2nd round instead of the sweet 16. Yes, our chances of beating Kansas are slimmer than our chances of beating Dayton, but nothing would get me more excited in the 2nd round than if we are in a tight game down the stretch with Kansas. I'd also love to see Cockburn go up against Azubuike. Even if he gets dominated, I want him to get that taste of what he needs to strive to become.

The ideal of course would be to move up as high as the 5 line, then we could play Kansas in the Sweet 16, probably close to home in Indianapolis. I think a realistic finish to the season is 3-1, get a double bye, win 1 game to make the BTT semifinal, and we will be between a 5 and a 6 seed.

Robert on February 26, 2020 @ 12:17 PM

Would really love a 6. Using Lundardi's bracket, here's the current paths for the 6-seeds to get to the Sweet 16:

Wichita State and then Louisville Northern Iowa and then Seton Hall Utah State and then Creighton East Tennessee State and then Villanova

I don't hate any of those.

Giovantischixstripz on February 26, 2020 @ 02:54 PM

My point is I am not too worried about path to the sweet 16. Getting an 8 and having to go through Kansas would certainly be more difficult, but it also has the potential to be a helluva lot more fun and memorable.

I also see it kind of like you see the BTT. Outside of Kansas and maybe Baylor, I think we are just as likely to beat any of the rest of the 1 seeds as we are the 2s and 3s. They are all flawed teams. SD St. or Dayton doesn't scare me more than Seton Hall or Louisville. Those mid majors on the 11 line scare me just as much as the 9 or 10 seeds would. The only reason I really care about getting a higher seed is that it means we will have finished the year strong and put in a semifinals or better performance in the BTT.

Chukwuwumba on February 26, 2020 @ 11:12 AM

Having 9 or 10 BIG teams in the field will add variability to the seed as well. Same record could Illini moved a seed up or down. Not sure how the committee has done this past years

Robert on February 26, 2020 @ 12:13 PM

Yeah, once you get past 8 teams, it's harder for the committee to avoid those second round matchups. My fear here is that it looks like we're set up for a 7-seed and we end up sliding to 8 because, say, Maryland is a 2 and they need to keep us off the 7 line.

That's probably a bad example since the B1G is probably only going to have one 2-seed. It gets a lot trickier around the 4-5 line. Some Big Ten teams will likely slide up to 3 or slide down to 6.

W.I.N.T. on February 26, 2020 @ 02:05 PM

I know it's not THAT realistic but all I am doing right now is worrying we get upset by NW and then needing to win another game or two to avoid being on the bubble. The 2010 decade has broken me.

SactownIllini on February 26, 2020 @ 02:28 PM

Right there with ya! The Weber and Groce bubble watch days are still too engrained in my DNA. I remember a time where the Selection Show was my FAVORITE show of the year and I'd write down all the teams. I don't think I've watched in a few years. The come up shorts against Rutgers and scUM still replay in my brain.

In a side note, so happy for the move, Robert! And what an improbable story. You found a great wife! Already enjoying the extra content!

danny on February 26, 2020 @ 04:01 PM

I’m in the minority here. While I’m thrilled the Illini will finally make it back to the Big Dance, I’m more focused on the BTT. I feel this team can win the BTT and I’d like Ayo n this team to have a championship. I feel the ceiling in the Big Dance in the Sweet 16. Personally I’d like to have a championship banner in the Assembly Hall aka State Farm Center. Going forward my focus will be on the Big Dance

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