Final Thoughts Before Tip-Off: The Illini Have Nothing To Lose

By Larry Smith - IlliniGuys Co-Founder & Co-Host/Executive Producer, IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular
March 30, 2024

To my fellow #Illini fans, let's put this in perspective:

UConn is an incredible team who deserves to be considered the favorite tonight and in this tournament.

But these games aren't won on paper.

There is a stat that has landed on several websites and multiple stories pointing out that UConn has set an #NCAA tournament record by posting 9 straight double-digit wins.

Impressive! And accurate!

But...do you know the OTHER NCAA tournament record that they've set? That no one is talking about (that I have seen)?

Last year, UConn became the first team to win the NCAA championship without facing a #1 or #2 seed.

And that trend continues. In avoiding #2 seed Iowa State, this will be their 10th straight game without seeing one of the top 8 teams in the field on the other side. Take nothing away from their accomplishments, but let's also put this in perspective. This is only the 2nd game in that impressive run that UConn will play a 3-seed, beating Gonzaga in 2023.

And...do you know what has not happened all this season? Illinois walking off the court after a double-digit loss. That also has not been mentioned anywhere that I have seen.

All this to say... don't put too much stock in the pundits, who watched UConn closely all season but likely just learned this week that Illinois has won 3 Big Ten championships in the past 4 years...AND is the winningest team in the B1G in the past 5 years. And be prepared for a game production that is heavily UConn, aside from periods of gushing over Terrence Shannon Jr. You shouldn't be mad about that. They are all VERY talented professionals. But it's a matter of human nature and geography. UConn is Goliath...and we think Illinois's name is David (the researchers are still looking that one up).

Illinois has won 10 of their last 11 games, six vs. NCAA teams - one ranked 4th in the nation - and four over NIT squads. Only a crazy 2nd half shooting performance by Purdue kept them from being perfect in that stretch. And in Shannon, they have arguably the 2nd best player in the tourney. Iowa State didn't allow him a single basket off a defensive rebound fast break and he sat more than six minutes in foul trouble, yet scored a game-high 29 points. Do you think UConn has slept well these past two nights thinking of "Agent 0"?

So, enjoy tonight #IlliniNation. The Orange and Blue may not win, but this is far from a guaranteed outcome. It's not a stretch to say this is the Huskies' toughest foe during their record run. As Marcus Domask said Thursday night 'they have to contend with us too'.

The games are played for a reason. Now let's go!! I-L-L!!!

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