For Illinois — and all of college basketball — March 12 was the day championship dreams died. The 21-victory Illini, scheduled to play Iowa the next day in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal, instead learned that their season was over.
How would the Illini have fared in the postseason? We’ll never know. There was no Selection Sunday, let alone an NCAA Tournament bracket.
It would’ve been a thrill to see the Illini take their shot at “one shining moment.” In honor of the Elite Eight — which was scheduled to unfold this weekend — here are eight things we were looking forward to watching play out:
1. Illinois-Iowa in Indianapolis would’ve been intense. The teams had just played in the regular-season finale, an angry affair won by the Illini. As Ayo Dosunmu made clear after slamming the door on the Hawkeyes, these teams didn’t like each other.
2. For a change, the name “Big Ten” fit because a whopping 10 teams from the league were projected to make the NCAA field. Would Wisconsin have stayed hot? Would Michigan State have gone deep again? Would Penn State or Rutgers have made some noise?
3. Was Dayton a legit No. 1 seed? On paper, yes. But wearing that No. 1 crown comes with enormous pressure.
4. Dayton’s Obi Toppin was a player America simply had to watch. Same for Marquette’s Markus Howard, the nation’s leading scorer at 27.8 points per game. Howard isn’t Dwyane Wade, but he was capable of shooting down anybody.
5. Seton Hall was an “it” team all season and probably would’ve been a popular pick to make a deep run. Some of us, though, thought the Pirates — and fellow Big East co-champs Creighton and Villanova — were ripe for early upsets.
6. We’re suckers for true point guards in March. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, Kansas’ Devon Dotson and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston are three who absolutely were made for this time of year.
7. Oh, by the way, Duke hasn’t been back to the Final Four since its last title in 2015. Talk about pressure — it never lets up for the Blue Devils.
8. Best of all to watch would’ve been all the wonderful things we didn’t see coming. Isn’t that the case every year?