Column: Tournament seedings pave favorable road to final for Illinois

The basketball season has come and gone. Illinois finished in second place in the Big Ten. Let me say it again. Illinois (23-8, 11-7 in conference) grabbed the No. 2 seed in the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, and they are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

I would not have had any reason to believe th…The basketball season has come and gone. Illinois finished in second place in the Big Ten. Let me say it again. Illinois (23-8, 11-7 in conference) grabbed the No. 2 seed in the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, and they are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

I would not have had any reason to believe those words if you read them to me at the beginning of the season. Illinois completely bounced back from last year’s 19-loss season, and they have personified the concept of “team” throughout the season. But their journey isn’t finished yet. All will be forgotten if the Orange and Blue lay an egg in the postseason.

By securing the No. 2-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the Illini actually have quite a favorable march to the final, which will be held Sunday in Indianapolis. Illinois plays the winner of the Michigan-Iowa game on Friday evening. The Wolverines would obviously pose a bigger threat to Illinois, but I definitely foresee the Illini making it to the tournament semifinal … at the very least.

Illinois’ next matchup would be against either Penn State or Purdue (bite your tongue if you even considered Indiana making it that far). The Nittany Lions have handled Illinois twice this season, but I just don’t see Penn State beating the Illini thrice in the same season.

For those of you paying close attention, I’m about to introduce a paradox into my own logic. In complete contradiction with my prediction that Illinois would defeat PSU in a third meeting, I also believe that the Illini could handle Purdue.

Yeah, I know. That means Bruce Weber’s bunch would win three times against the same squad. But they just match up against the Boilermakers so darn well. Illinois’ defense seemingly suffocates Purdue whenever these teams meet.

My crystal ball gets pretty cloudy beyond the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be exciting to watch.

Believe it or not, I think Wisconsin would be the toughest opponent for the Illini (it would also be a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship game).

But enough of the potential matchups.

The Illini will need senior leadership to help write a fairy-tale ending. For the love of God, Trent Meacham needs to get hot if Illinois expects to do any considerable damage in postseason play. The Champaign, Ill., native failed to record a point in the Illini’s final game at Penn State and netted only six points in the March 1 loss to Michigan State.

Chester Frazier will need to continue being the foundation of this team’s attitude. Frazier’s hustle, basketball IQ and leadership will be critical to the team’s success not only this weekend but in the following weeks. If only he could bottle all of that up and dish it out before games.

Believe it or not, Weber needs his bench to show up in Indianapolis if Illinois is going to win the Big Ten Tournament. An appearance in Sunday’s championship game would mean back-to-back-to-back games. If Weber sticks to his starters, the Illini will encounter one of those quicksand games where they get can’t do anything right. Dominique Keller, Alex Legion, Calvin Brock and Jeff Jordan don’t need to come out and fill up the stat sheet, but these role players need to do the little things right (not to mention provide breathers for starters).

I need to address something I didn’t have time for earlier this week. If Illinois loses to Penn State again, and PSU fans decide to rush the court, then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

I’m not speaking as an Illinois fan; I’m merely calling it the way I see it. You just don’t rush the court when you beat the then-23rd team in the country, especially when you’ve already beaten them before. It just doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Anyway, soak up this year’s Big Ten Tournament. No one is a lock to win it, and your Illini are one of the favorites.

My crystal ball is clearing up a little bit. Don’t be surprised to see Illinois versus Michigan State in Round 3 on Sunday.

Ryan Dixon is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]