Basketball starts on top

By Lisa Koulias

For just the third time in school history, the Illini enters the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.

Their unlucky opponents? The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, who are participating in the annual tourney for the fourth time in school history.

And while odds are in favor of the No. 1 Illini in tonight’s game in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis, the No. 16-seeded Knights are keeping their confidence up, in hopes for an upset.

“It feels great to play Illinois,” said Knights junior guard Chad Timberlake. “I’m ready to get out there, get on the court, get scouting reports ready. We watched them play a lot this year so we know what they are about. We are going to go out there and try to get a win.”

The 32-1 Illini, however, have not had very many opportunities to see the Knights play. But Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said they have accumulated some tapes to start their scouting report.

“We knew we had a pretty good chance to be a one or a two (seed), so we concentrated on the lower-rated conferences,” Weber said Monday. “So we had the one film when we got back, of Wagner.”

As the week progressed, the Illini got their hands on five or six other tapes to focus in on their first-round opponent.

The Knights, who enter the tournament with a 20-12 record, are coming off a second place regular season finish in the Northeast Conference. They went on to win three straight postseason games to win the NEC Tournament Title, giving them an at large bid to the NCAA tournament.

While the Knights think they can play tough with the Illini, junior forward James Augustine said it might not be as easy as they think.

“Everybody wants to run with us, but it’s really easier said than done,” Augustine said. “It’s a good goal, but when you get to a game it’s a lot different. I hope they can run with us, they are a good team, but it’s easier said than done.”

But history also doesn’t look good for the Knights – as no 16-seed has ever won an NCAA Tournament game. No. 16 seeds have come within four points on five occasions, including the Knights’ loss to Michigan in 1985.

Weber, however, doesn’t want his team to take tonight’s game lightly.

“Our kids know that a 16 could beat a 1,” Weber said. “We have done so many historical things this year, we don’t want to have a bad one.

“We’ll come ready to play, they know what’s on the line.”

If the Illini keep history rolling, they will face off against the winner of the Texas-Nevada game on Saturday night. Further in the tournament, the Illini could meet Arizona or Oklahoma State.

“Everyone keeps getting worried saying ‘well what if you guys have to play these guys or those guys,'” Weber said. “I’m hoping they are worried about us, saying ‘man, we got thrown in Illinois’s bracket.’ I hope there is that scenario also.”