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Two former Illini coaches square off in national spotlight

Monday night the college basketball world was focused on Lawrence, Kansas for the game between Oklahoma and Kansas. The game featured two of the best teams in the country, ranked No. 1 and 2 in both polls, with each team ranked first in one of the polls.

However, in Champaign, the game was a little tough to swallow. It featured two former Illini head coaches who left for greener pastures.

Lon Kruger, who is now the head coach of Oklahoma, led the Illini from 1996 to 2000. Kruger took the team to the NCAA Tournament three times, losing in the second round each time. Following the 1999-00 season, Kruger left Illinois to coach the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.

Kruger’s replacement at Illinois was an up-and-coming coach by the name of Bill Self. The new head coach continued the team’s success, reaching the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen in back-to-back seasons. Then, after his third season, Self was ready to move on. Self left the Illini for the Kansas Jayhawks.

The Illini are on their second head coach after Self left the team. Since then, Illinois has reached at least the Sweet Sixteen only twice. They have failed to reach the NCAA Tournament five times in that stretch.

The game Sunday night lived up to the hype, needing double-overtime before going final.