Selection Sunday Nerves

Mar 12, 2023

One thing I have going for me: random access memory. Not on my laptop - in my head. For whatever reason, memories that are erased from most people's heads remain in mine. I just have this thing where I can place myself in the emotions of a moment from the past. I don't have a photographic memory, I have an... emotional memory?

So as I wait for the clock to get to 5:00 pm, I'll just randomly talk about other Selection Sundays in the past. Years like 2005 and 2021 we knew that we were 1000% 1-seed locks. Other years we knew that we were completely out. But does anyone else remember...


I was SHOCKED that we were a one-seed. I thought that we might be -- the same part of my brain that thought "I think we will beat Penn State by 10+ this time around" on Thursday is the part of my brain that was hoping for a 1-seed in 2001 -- but when they announced us as a 1-seed, I was still very surprised.

There were three absolute locks for 1-seeds that year. Michigan State (they had 4 losses, we had 7), Duke, and Stanford (who was - let me look this up - 28-2). So it just felt like our 7 losses were going to push us to the 2-line. Looking over the list here, Iowa State only had 5 losses and North Carolina was 24-6. And if a team with 7 losses was going to get a 1-seed, it was probably going to be Arizona (which had just beaten #1 Stanford the week before).

But there it was on the screen: The four one-seeds: Stanford, Duke, Michigan State, and 7-loss Illinois. If I could bottle a drug that would give you the feeling I had in that moment, well, I'd be super rich and probably wouldn't have ever started a blog.


This one is the single worst feeling I can remember on Selection Sunday. I've been angry about our seed before, but there's nothing worse than "we're probably out but maybe??" being confirmed as OUT.

I can remember that whole BTT weekend. The night before the BTT started someone asked me for my Big Ten Tournament prediction and I told him or her that my one fear was Minnesota making a run and stealing our spot. Let me see if I can find that tweet.

Here it is. Looks like the account I responded to no longer exists, but here's a screencap of my response:

There's the timestamp right there - 8:27 pm on Tuesday, March 9th. Here's the link to the tweet if you want to see for yourself. Anyone want to guess what happened that weekend? We beat Wisconsin, lost to Ohio State (in double overtime when we failed to get a shot in the air at the end of regulation OR at the end of the first overtime), and watched Minnesota make the title game against Ohio State and grab the final spot in the field. Illinois? Off to the NIT as a 1-seed.

That feeling was just the WORST. Watching each team name added to the screen, hoping to somehow see Illinois, but knowing it wasn't going to happen because the worst-case scenario I laid out on Tuesday had come true by Sunday.



I yelled bad words at the screen. This was just... I cannot emphasize the injustice of that seed. A list:

  • We had finished 2nd in the Big Ten (thanks to one freaking free throw at freaking Wisconsin) but that Wisconsin game was our only loss in like a month.
  • We had rolled through the Big Ten Tournament on our way to the tourney title making the commentators debate whether we were a 2 or a 3.
  • Nearly every mock bracket on the planet had us as a 2-seed or a 3-seed.

And then the brackets come out and we're a 4-seed. Two consecutive years where we were hosed in the seeding process. I need to think of a good way to emphasize this.

I guess it's as simple as using the RPI. Xavier was a 3-seed and Illinois was a 4-seed in 2003. In the RPI (the precursor to the NET), Illinois was 14 and Xavier was 23. The RPI didn't use "Quads" back then, but in all the categories they used (things like "opponent's winning percentage"), Illinois was higher. Yet Xavier was a 3 and Illinois was a 4.

Or just use KenPom. KenPom wasn't used back then like it's used today (I'm not sure it was even published anywhere until Basketball Prospectus started years later), but Ken Pomeroy's 2003 data has Illinois #5 nationally and Xavier #20. Illinois, #5 in KenPom, getting a 4-seed. Wouldn't happen today (the Committee actually pays attention to metrics now), but back then, somehow, "I think Xavier should be ahead of Illinois".

Hated it then and I hate it now.


This one was a different kind of drug. This one was similar to 2010 ("I bet we're on the outside looking in") but then "ILLINOIS" popped up on the screen. The very last team in. Landed squarely on the center of the bubble, slid off in the good direction, not the bad direction.

My memory is fuzzy on whether this was a photo or a video (did CBS have cameras on our team watching the Selection Show maybe?), but I remember Calvin Brock's celebration. We definitely did the whole "nervous nervous nervous YESSSSS" thing as a team.

That was pre-blog, but I'm sure I went to the Hoops Fan Forum on IlliniBoard and spun out thousands of words on how ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE now that we're in the Tournament. Virginia Tech is a flawed 5-seed! 12-seeds win all the time! The second-round opponent will be SIU-Carbondale! We could honestly use this stay-of-execution to rally our way to the second weekend!

We followed that with - and I'm sorry to do this to everyone - "we lead 5-seed Virginia tech 52-42 with four minutes to go!!". The high of seeing our name on the screen on Sunday had carried right through the first 36 minutes of the Virginia Tech game on Friday. Spoiler alert for those of you who have that 2007 game on DVR and haven't watched it yet. I'm going to reveal the ending to the game now:

12-0 Virginia Tech run in the final four minutes and the Illini lost 54-52.


I'll end with a few thoughts on our possible seeding in three hours:

I think we'll be a 9. I'm hoping for a 10 to stay out of the top of the bracket (dream bracket: 10 across from 7-seed Florida Atlantic staring at 2-seed Baylor for the Monster Danger Revenge Game no Baylor fan wants to see), but I feel like, for the first time in a long time, we'll move up a seed line, not down. It's just the most 2023 Illini season thing that could happen. "Finally moved up a line, this time from a 10 to 9... and now we have to play Auburn across from 1-seed Kansas."

Whatever it is, I'll be happy to get in. And then maybe, just maybe, because the Tournament is the Tournament and you just never know............


CKWatt on March 12, 2023 @ 02:58 PM

I'm with you Robert, that I think we'll end up an 8/9, which is the absolute worst seed to be as a high-major team. While I wanted to beat Penn State on Thursday (obviously), I hope the silver lining is that we drop to a 10 (or 11!), because I would take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Dr. Chim Richalds on March 12, 2023 @ 04:44 PM

I could be mis-remembering, but I think 2010 also had a significant number of surprise bid-stealers. I thought for sure we were in after beating Wisconsin that Friday, and then the available spots kept dropping the rest of the weekend...

HiggsBoson on March 12, 2023 @ 08:13 PM

Ended up as a 9, which was better than they deserved. If the phase of the moon (or whatever it is) is right, they might win that game, but are unlikely to have a run. Illini flamed out in the second round with Ayo and Kofi. Don't see these guys doing any better.

Make sure you cover the women's team. They seem better coached and play to their potential more consistently.

jdl on March 12, 2023 @ 09:56 PM

I was in the United Center brew pub in 2003 watching that selection show. Lots of anger in that room, and not over the $12 Bud Light drafts.

OrangeBlazer on March 12, 2023 @ 11:50 PM

Add 2006 and 2004 to the list of under seeded teams. 2006 in particular was robbed--top 10 team all year, projected as a 2/3 seed, end up a 4.

In fact, here are our NCAA seeds and final KenPom ratings from 2002-06:

2002: 4 (8)

2003: 4 (5)

2004: 5 (13)

2005: 1 (2)

2006: 4 (9)

In an era before the committee relied on analytics, one wonders how different our NCAA history would look if we had been given the opportunity of a bunch 2 and 3 seeds during what was already a golden era.

uilaw71 on March 13, 2023 @ 06:52 AM

The committee did us a solid this year, especially considering last four out. Will need our big boy pants to have a shot on Thursday.

danielb927 on March 15, 2023 @ 01:58 PM

Only comment is on this part:

Illinois, #5 in KenPom, getting a 4-seed. Wouldn't happen today (the Committee actually pays attention to metrics now), but back then, somehow, "I think Xavier should be ahead of Illinois".

Last year Houston was #5 in KenPom and got a 5 seed, so it seems like this kind of thing absolutely could still happen today, even if it's less likely.

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