Searching for a sign on Selection Sunday

By Lucas Deal

For some reason, I just knew.

I’m not sure why. This feeling just came over me. Sometimes you get that: a complete assuredness and confidence in what’s to come. I wouldn’t consider it a psychic skill; it’s more like a temporary revelation. For that one instant, everything aligns just right and you know.

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I had one of those moments on Sunday.

It was during the CBS NCAA Tournament Selection Show. CBS studio host Greg Gumbel was in the process of revealing the 5/12 game of the Tournament’s West Region. Kansas had already been announced as the bracket’s No. 1 seed and Virginia Tech had just popped up on the screen as the region’s No. 5 seed. The No. 12 seed was next.

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    All of a sudden, this feeling came over me that Illinois was next. And I was sure of it. As early as 15 seconds before, I had no idea if the Illini would even make the bracket, but at that moment, they jumped into my mind as the team to face Virginia Tech.

    “That’s us,” I said to myself, no less than two seconds before Gumbel officially announced the Illini were in the field. I wasn’t sure why, but I just knew that had to be us.

    Since then, I’ve spent the better part of two days searching my mind for another revelation about the Illini. I want to push them through to the Sweet Sixteen, I want that game with Kansas, but in my mind I just don’t see it.

    Actually, I don’t see anything.

    I can’t see Illinois beating Virginia Tech on Friday, but I can’t really see them beating us either. The Illini aren’t much of an offensive juggernaut, but their defense is good enough to limit Tech’s ability to score against them.

    Same goes for a potential second-round game against Weber’s former team and former assistant in Chris Lowery and Southern Illinois.

    I think if the Illini were to meet the Salukis, it would be a highly competitive defensive game. Both teams have the ability to suffocate the other’s offense, but since both are so similar, I can’t distinguish between each one. I can go with my loyalty and take the Illini to win both games or stick to the chalk and give Tech the first-round win.

    Either way would be defensible; I just can’t decide.

    The games are too close and the teams are too even. I need a sign; I need a reason for my picks.

    I need another revelation. As of right now, I’ve got nothing.

    In my bracket, I have Florida, UCLA, Georgetown and Texas A&M; in the Final Four. I have the Bruins and Aggies meeting in the National Championship and former Illini assistant coach Billy Gillispie and Texas A&M; taking home the crown.

    I stepped out on a ledge with those picks. Neither UCLA nor A&M; won a game in their conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament has never been won by a team that entered the field coming off an opening round conference tournament loss. Essentially, the only way I’m winning an NCAA Tournament pool is if one of those two teams rewrites history. If they can’t break the streak, I’m going to look like a moron.

    But I’m fine with that.

    I didn’t take UCLA and A&M; because they’re the nation’s two best teams – I’d say that’s probably Florida and North Carolina. No, I took them because I have a feeling; I have a hunch they’re up to something.

    I think UCLA’s Darren Collison and Texas A&M;’s Acie Law IV are the two best guards in college basketball. I think Gillispie and Ben Howland are terrific coaches. I think they’ve got potential to beat any team at any time.

    But most importantly, deep in my gut, I feel more confident about them than anybody else.

    I just wish I could say the same about Illinois. Because right now, I’m still waiting for that revelation.

    Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]