Breaking Down Illinois' Bracket

Does a date with Gonzaga await?

Sunday night, Illinois got their marching orders.

The 24-9 Illini went 11-7 in the Big Ten, all year long proving to be just a notch or two below Michigan State at the top of the conference, and for their trouble were awarded with a No. 5 seed. They'll play No. 12 Western Kentucky in the South quarter of the bracket; they'll travel to Portland, Oregon to do so.

Who are the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers? Fans of the NCAA tournament will be familiar. WKU entered the tournament as a No. 12 seed in 2008, where it proceeded to upset the No. 5-seed Drake Bulldogs on a last second shot; it was one of the highlights of the tournament. (Another highlight: WKU mascot "Big Red," which bucks the trend of anthropomorphic mascots by merely being a big, red blob. Best. Mascot. Ever.)

Anyway, if the Illini survive past WKU in the first round, they face a likely match-up with No. 4-seed Gonzaga, who streaked to yet another WCC Championship with relative ease. Gonzaga is a deceptively tough match up for the Illini, as a few early losses have obscured just how well the Bulldogs have played down the stretch. They're ranked sixth in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency stats, which are adjusted for league; yes, they have been that good. Gonzaga isn't afraid of a fast break style, either. That doesn't bode well for Illinois, who prefer to set up their vaunted half court defense and slug out a close game.

In any case, it's not the easiest bracket for Illinois, but we'd be lying if we said we knew what was going to happen. This is the NCAA tournament. The only thing we know for sure is that we really know nothing at all.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger that can't wait to see Big Red in action again. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us