It wasn't always pretty -- especially the last five minutes -- but Illinois got the win it desperately needed Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
Junior center Mike Tisdale (pictured) hit 8 of 10 shots from the floor and finished with a game-high 21 points as the Illini hung on to beat No. 13 Wisconsin 58-54 in Indianapolis. Illinois had a 46-30 lead with 6:50 to go. That 16-point advantage got chopped down to two with less than a minute to play, but the Illini (19-13) prevailed.
What does this mean for Illinois' tournament hopes? This guess here is the Illini are in. But I wouldn't stake my life on it. The selection committee could say, "These idiots lost to Bradley," and throw Illinois out. But with the weak bubble this year, I think the Illini have enough quality wins to make the field of 65.
I was telling one of my friends this morning that Illinois might have been better off not playing the game. The way other bubble teams were choking under the pressure, the Illini's resume was looking better and better by not even taking the floor.
As we mentioned on this blog earlier this week, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had Illinois as the last team in on Monday. By last night, the Illini were the second-to-last team in. By halftime of today's game, they were the third-to-last team in. Other bubble teams have been falling on their own swords left and right. Now, Illinois collects a wire-to-wire win over a top 15 team. That's probably enough.
If you've been watching the "Bubble watch" on the ESPN crawl the last couple days, you may have noted that most of these bubble teams are 1-4 or 1-5 or 2-6 against the RPI top 50. Well, Illinois has FIVE WINS against the RPI top 50. What other bubble team can say that? That's the number Illinois fans can pin their hopes on.
Further, the Illini have a chance to add a sixth top 50 win to their resume in tomorrow's Big Ten semifinal against No. 5 Ohio State. A victory Saturday makes Illinois an absolute lock. A loss, well, that would make you sweat a little bit. But in my estimation, it's looking pretty favorable after Friday's win. We'll know for sure Sunday.
Some other Big Ten tournament notes: Illinois is now 12-1 in quarterfinal games in the 13-year history of the tournament. 2006 was the only year the Illini did not play in the tourney semifinals. In addition, Illinois is now 23-10 all-time in Big Ten tourney play. That is tops among conference schools.