Arena renovations mean Illini will have to be road warriors in NIT
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter March 16, 2014 11:31PM
CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 28: A general view of play between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Purdue Boilermakers on January 28, 2006 at the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: March 17, 2014 3:09PM
Illinois can take consolation that its roller-coaster season ended with a No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament. But a seed that normally means at least a couple of home games won’t help the Illini.
Renovations at the State Farm Center mean the Illini
(19-14) will play at Boston
University at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Terriers (24-10) were the regular-season champions in the
Patriot League, earning an automatic NIT bid. The game will air on ESPN2.
Illinois, which lost eight consecutive games during one stretch of the Big Ten schedule, won five of its last seven. Its two losses during that span were to regular-season champion Michigan.
‘‘We’re excited,’’ Illini coach John Groce said. ‘‘As I told our guys, there are 350-plus teams [in Division I], and only 140 get to
participate in postseason.
‘‘I’ve had some experience in the NIT, and we were able to win it in 2008 with Ohio [when Groce was the Bobcats’ coach]. It’s a great environment and a great opportunity for our team. We’ve played well of late, and our seed was a reflection of that.’’
A victory against Boston University would set up a second-round matchup against Clemson or Georgia State in another road game. St. John’s is the top seed in Illinois’ bracket.
‘‘We knew what the situation was,’’ Groce said of not having a home court. ‘‘We’ve dealt with the cards dealt us all year, and that’s OK.’’
The Illini are one of only Big Ten teams in the NIT field. The other is
Minnesota, which earned one of the other three No. 1
seeds. The other top seeds are Florida State and SMU.
The Golden Gophers reached the championship game of the NIT in 2012, losing to Stanford. They will host High Point, the Big South regular-season champion, on Tuesday.
‘‘While we are obviously disappointed that we were not selected for the NCAA tournament field, we are extremely excited about the opportunity to continue our season in the NIT,’’ Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Among teams of local interest that failed to make the NIT were Indiana and Marquette.
‘‘Not everyone gets the call to the postseason,’’ Groce said. ‘‘It’s hard.’’
St. John’s will make its record 30th trip to the NIT.
‘‘My father played in the NIT in the 1950s, so I have an appreciation for the rich heritage of the tournament,’’ Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said. ‘‘We’re fired up. It’s about building a program.’’
Baylor, which won the NIT last season, made the NCAA field as a No. 6 seed this season.