CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Big Ten was rewarded with a fifth team in the NCAA Tournament. It just wasn’t Illinois.
The Illini had their bubble burst Sunday and were not one of the 65 teams announced to play in the NCAA tournament. It was the second time in three seasons that the Illini missed the field. Before that, they reached it eight consecutive times.
Ohio State, a No. 2 seed, Wisconsin(4), Purdue (4) and Michigan State(5) were selected as expected. Minnesota was the surprise as it earned an 11 seed after making a run to Sunday’s Big Ten tournament championship.
Experts had thought one of the tournament final spots could come down to Illinois or Minnesota.
The difference between Illinois and Minnesota was slim. The two met only once this season, but it was a costly game for the Illini as they lost at home 62-60 on Feb. 27. It was one of Illinois’ most sluggish games. The Illini scored just 14 points in the first half and shot 23 for 72 from the field. They did rally late and had a chance to tie the game, but their shot at the buzzer fell short.
Minnesota finished 21-12 overall, 9-9 in the Big Ten, were ranked No. 59 in RPI and was 3-3 against top-25 RPI teams and 5-6 against teams in the top 50. Illinois finished its season 19-14, 10-8 in conference, a No. 74 RPI ranking, was 3-3 against top-25 RPI teams and 5-9 against top-50 teams.
“We did finish ahead of them in the Big Ten,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber an hour before the selection show. “We do have more quality wins. They may have benefitted by playing four games in the Big Ten Tournament. They got the sixth seed and played Michigan State. We got the fifth and played the better team, Wisconsin.”
Weber wasn’t overly optimistic, though.
“If we get in, I’d be surprised, if I’m honest,” Weber said.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi predicted Illinois would be in with his final Bracketology. He had Illinois, Minnesota and Utah State as his final three teams in. The Gophers and Utah State did receive at-large bids.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.