Selection Sunday

Mar 15, 2020

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I refuse to acknowledge that this was supposed to be the happiest day of the year. We waited seven years to see "Illinois" pop up on the screen when the brackets are announced, and we finally qualified, and it's not happening, so l'm not sure why I'm acknowledging it here when I promised to not acknowledge it. Instead, let's do something else. Let's do an Illini Bracket.

For starters, this was not my idea. It's a great idea, but I shouldn't get any credit for it. A guy named Joe DM'd me the idea. His DM, condensed: with nothing to write about, why not do a bracket of the 16 greatest Illini basketball teams and then let us vote on them every day? I honestly started seeding the teams 45 seconds after I read his DM.

Here's how it will work: each morning, I'll put up a new matchup. Starting tomorrow, it's the 1 vs. the 16. I'll do a Twitter poll, and let people vote, and the winner will move on to the next matchup.

I'll also write a post about the two teams each morning. For the first eight matchups, they will simply be "everything you need to know about the 1987 Illini team (SNAKE) and the 2011 team (ranked as high as 12th before the loss to UIC)" posts. After that, for the teams that move on, I'll go deeper into things I remember. There's only one team on the list (1981) which will need any research - everything else will just come from my head.

This post will simply let you know the seeds. It's Selection Sunday, don't you know. I will say - this was difficult for the committee. Mostly because the committee (me) felt like the teams needed to be separated by at least one season. I'll explain.

The thing I wanted to avoid: a semifinal where it was 2004 against 2005. How would you even decide that. "OK, Deron guards Deron, and Dee guards Dee, and we'd put Powell on Powell..." I believe Jerrance Howard was the only senior on the 2003/04 team, and he didn't play, so really, it would be the same team playing the same team.

Because of this rule, I kept the teams at least two years apart with one exception: I did add the 1994 team as the 14-seed while also having the 1993 team and the 1995 team on there. A few paragraphs to explain that one:

When I did the "separate the teams by at least two, sometimes three years" thing, eliminating 1988 and 1990 so that 1989 would be on the list, I found that I had 15 teams on the list (chosen from my lifetime, so there's no Whiz Kids on here). I needed one more, and it would have to create back-to-back teams somewhere, so I chose a team from my years in school because I remember so much detail.

To me, the 1993, 1994, and 1995 teams were significantly different. Deon Thomas was the centerpiece of the first two seasons, but they were quite different. The 1993 team had Andy Kaufman and Rennie Clemons making the whole thing go, and then Kaufman graduated and Rennie Clemons failed to make grades as a senior so 1994 was Deon, Deon, and more Deon with two freshmen worked into the mix (Kiwane Garris and Jerry Hester). And then in 1995, Deon graduated and the whole tone of the team changed - Garris was the scorer (along with Richard Keene) and Shelly Clark was the man in the middle.

I could write a short book on the differences between those three teams, so if they were to upset their way to a matchup in the Final Four, I could easily write that post. Much more than I could write, say, the differences between 2000 and 2001. Which is why 2000 isn't on this list but 1994 is.

OK, so let's get to the seeds. Here's the list:

1. 2005
2. 1989
3. 2001
4. 1984
5. 1987
6. 2003
7. 1981
8. 1998
9. 2020
10. 2009
11. 1993
12. 2013
13. 2011
14. 1994
15. 1995
16. 2007

A few notes:

  • The hardest seeding was 8-9-10. And the team that might complain the most is 2009, a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament, being placed below 1998 (another 5-seed) and 2020 (what I believe would have been a 6-seed). But that's how I saw the order of those teams. With Chester Frazier's injury, that 2009 team lost badly at the end of the season and then lost to a 12-seed in the Tournament. I hate to say it, but that plays into my feelings towards that team.
  • I tried to do this without thinking about matchups. But like when you see the Committee line up Illinois across from Bruce Pearl and UW-Milwaukee, some of these matchups might feel like I did that. I didn't. I swear.
  • It was interesting (to me) how clear the top-4 were. As in, we haven't had any sleeper teams make it to the Elite Eight. The top two seeds went to the two Final Four teams in my lifetime. The next two seeds went to the two Elite Eight teams. Easy peasy.

I feel like I'm already spoiling things. I'll just list the first round matchups and then we'll get to the Tournament tomorrow. The first eight games will be:

(1) 2005
(16) 2007

(8) 1998
(9) 2020

(5) 1987
(12) 2013

(4) 1984
(13) 2011

(3) 2001
(14) 1994

(6) 2003
(11) 1993

(7) 1981
(10) 2009

(2) 1989
(15) 1995

Discuss amongst yourselves. Fill out a bracket. Yell at the committee if you want. Voting for The Illini Bracket starts tomorrow.


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