Good Morning, Illini Nation: Prepared for March?

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Welcome to "Good Morning, Illini Nation," your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He'll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood's team and college basketball at large:

Illinois' 88-80 loss at Michigan State on Saturday didn't completely put a regular season Big Ten title out of the picture, but it certainly didn't help the Illini's pursuit. Let former Illinois guard turned ESPN analyst Sean Harrington explain:

Updated @B1GMBBall plus minus standings. Everyone is looking up at @BoilerBall. Crushing loss for @GopherMBB at Iowa that would have gotten them to +1.

— Sean Harrington (@smharrington24) February 11, 2024

So if Purdue seems to be trending toward another Big Ten championship — by multiple games no less — maybe it's time to start thinking about March. The Illini are an NCAA tournament team. The latest T-Ranketology from Bart Torvik projects Illinois as a No. 5 seed. (Maybe losing at Michigan State did have an impact).

But a No. 5 seed is still in, with possible first-round matchups against teams like Ole Miss, James Madison, Grand Canyon and Princeton. The 5/12 game is ripe for upsets on an annual basis, but this Illinois team at its best has at least second weekend potential.

That would be new territory for everyone on the Illini roster not named Terrence Shannon Jr. or Quincy Guerrier. Shannon helped Texas Tech reach the Sweet 16 in 2022. Guerrier did the same at Oregon in 2021. But tournaments wins, let alone enough to make it to the second weekend (or further), are few and far between for this Illinois team.

Marcus Domask and Justin Harmon have never played in an NCAA tournament. Coleman Hawkins, Luke Goode and Ty Rodgers have all been on Illinois teams that couldn't get out of the first weekend. And while Dain Dainja was on the Baylor roster in 2021, he redshirted after a foot injury and surgery and never played for the national champs.