Future remains bright for basketball fans

The 2009-10 Illinois men’s basketball regular season ended in disappointment for both the team and the fans. The NCAA Tournament selection committee opted not to invite our Illini to its 65-team tournament, which many consider to be the biggest collegiate sporting event of the year.

After beginning the season with a lot of hope, the team had some key losses that the NCAA committee felt outweighed their notable wins. The Illini defeated four top-25 teams, and beat Wisconsin twice, giving us five total wins against top-tier competition. A Big Ten Tournament run against Ohio State fell short, although the team took the Big Ten regular season and Big Ten Tournament champions to two overtimes. We should be proud of these victories.

We urge fans not to let these hardships cloud any feelings about Illinois basketball. While expectations for the team were high in October, and we entered the season ranked in the top 25, it was still a year to grow. We should be proud of the wins the team had, including a road win at Wisconsin — a team that had not lost to an unranked opponent at home in 51 games under head coach Bo Ryan.

Our team is a No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). While the NIT is not considered a big event, our Illini will likely be playing at home in the second round, as long as we defeat Stony Brook, a school from Long Island, N.Y. If the Illini win, tickets for the home game will go on sale Thursday. If you are still in town, go ahead — don your orange gear and cheer on our team.

Let’s not forget this year was a year for growth. The future is bright here at Illinois. Our three freshman who receive significant playing time — D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey — will hopefully gain experience playing extra games. Next year, Bruce Weber will bring in a recruiting class ranked in the top-10 nationally by ESPNU, Scout.com and Rivals.com. Another great group is on its way in 2011. Illinois fans should be excited, as some exciting NCAA Tournament runs shine as bright possibilities in the future.

If the team does well in the NIT tournament, we have the opportunity to face some storied programs. The University of North Carolina and Arizona State are also playing in the NIT. Do not let the NCAA disappointment keep you from cheering for Illinois in the postseason. After our season is completely over, which will hopefully be after an NIT win at Madison Square Garden, cheer on our recruits as they end their high school careers and get ready to be a part of an exciting time at Illinois.