Today is the last weekday of October, which means we’re really close to college basketball season.
Besides that being fantastic news, November’s arrival also means it’s no longer ‘too early’ to pick a projected NCAA Tournament field. Or at least according to USA Today Sports it isn’t.
I’ll be honest, it’s a bit aggressive to project the entire NCAA Tournament field in late October – a simple Final Four would have done just fine – but after reading over USA Today’s picks from this week, one thing stood out.
And that’s Illinois State being projected as an 11-seed in the West region (again, the specific details seem a little ridiculous) – which would be the Redbirds’ first trip to the Big Dance since 1998. Hell, USA Today even picked them to upset Baylor in the first round.
Notably missing is ISU’s big brother to the southeast, officially known as the University of Illinois. The temperature of head coach John Groce’s seat almost solely depends on the Illini getting a tournament bid, as they haven’t returned since Groce took them there in his first season (2012).
In total, the projected field has seven Big Ten teams – and ISU joins Wichita State as the Missouri Valley’s second rep.
It’s not insane for USA Today to pick the Redbirds; they’ve been NIT regulars and knocking on the NCAA Tournament door for years. And last season, they came within one win of breaking their 17-season tourney drought.
More than anything, this might just reaffirm where college basketball stands in the state of Illinois – which has been completely shut out of the dance the last two seasons.
Because yes, regardless of how good they are, it would be quite telling if Illinois State was the team that gets the state back on the board in 2015-2016.
Either way, I think it’s about time Illinois and Illinois State set up a yearly rivalry game in hoops.