The Illini don’t care about the NIT and neither should you

Last year, I planned my spring break around the NIT. If the Illini defeated Clemson to play Belmont, my family would go to Nashville for the game and then head south to Gulf Shores, Alabama. If the Illini lost to Clemson, my dad and sister and I would meet up with my mom and other sister on a band trip in Washington, D.C., and head south to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

On gameday, the Illini would take a lead, and we’d get ready to head south. Clemson would make a run, and we’d get ready to head east.

In the end, we went to Hilton Head.

I had a really nice time in the nation’s capital and in the southeast, but it’s a sad thing to plan your vacation around a subpar basketball team. At the time, I didn’t really mind.

I’ve always been a fan of the NIT. I’d rather watch a team win a few games in the NIT than lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The experience of playing a few more games against decent competition — especially road games against major conference schools — helps the team the next year. In my mind, the NIT is basically a preseason tournament, with seniors sticking around to help.

It’s beneficial to go to a postseason tournament during a rebuilding year. But this wasn’t supposed to be a rebuilding year. Illinois should never go to the NIT in consecutive seasons.

So how did I end up on the side arguing that Illini fans shouldn’t care about the NIT? Well, I watched the last two Illinois games.

The Illini phoned in a play-in game for the NCAA tournament against Purdue and then slept through a game against a bad Michigan team with a possible trip to the Big Dance on the line.

During my four years at the University, there was one basketball team I was proud of. There was one NCAA tournament appearance. In today’s Daily Illini, there’s a 10-year anniversary guide of the 2004-05 team. Growing up, I watched the teams of the early 2000s and one day dreamed of being in the Orange Krush and watching Illinois win a Big Ten title and go to the Final Four.

Instead, in the last game that mattered of my college career, the Illini acted like they would rather be doing just about anything other than playing in the NCAA tournament.

Had the Illini acted like they wanted to win on Thursday, I would probably be excited for a run in the NIT. Even if they missed the NCAA tournament after beating the Wolverines and losing to Wisconsin on Friday, I would have hope that the Illini care about making the most of this season.

But Thursday’s loss to Michigan was the least inspired effort I’ve seen from an Illini team in my entire life. Has Illinois ever given up so easily in a game that mattered so much?

If the players don’t care, then why should anyone else?

Johnathan is a senior in Media.

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@jhett93