Illinois, Illinois State and UIC keep playing – even if it’s not in the NCAA Tournament

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ST. LOUIS, MO. - MARCH 05: Illinois St. Redbirds guard Paris Lee (1) drives in for a shot during the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Men's Basketball Tournament game between the Wichita State Shockers and the Illinois State Redbirds on March 05, 2017, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – The biggest dance of the college basketball season only has 68 invitations and only one was handed out to a school from the State of Illinois.

Oddly enough, Northwestern finally got their first ever invitation to the NCAA Tournament to prevent the state from getting shutout of the Division I men’s basketball championships for a fourth-straight season.

But three other teams in the state will have the chance to keep playing basketball this March thanks to a few other tournaments outside of the “Big Dance.”

Illinois State narrowly missed out their first NCAA Tournament bid since the 1998 season as they were named on of the “First Four Out” for the 2017 selectionsm according to CBS. For that, the Redbirds accept the consolation prize of being a No. 1 seed in the National Invitational Tournament.

They’ll open up play at home on Wednesday again 8th-seeded UC Irvine and will be at home all the way through the semifinals of the tournament if they keep winning since they are at the top of the eight-team bracket.

That might not help Illinois State head coach Dan Muller feel any better about his program getting snubbed for the NCAA Tournament, saying that the committee’s decision to leave the Redbirds out “is idiotic to me.”

On the opposite end of that bracket are the Illinois Fighting Illini, who are a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will compete under the leadership of an interim head coach. After John Groce was fired on Saturday, Jamall Walker will take over the team for the tournament which starts against seventh-seeded Valparaiso on Tuesday at 6:15 PM.

Steve McClain’s young UIC team will get another chance to earn some experience in the CBI Tournament. The Flames are one of 16 teams that will participate in the single-elimination tournament which features a best-of-three finals series for the two remaining teams. UIC opens up play Thursday night at home against Stony Brook at 7 PM. This was originally scheduled for Wednesday at the same time but was moved back a day due to severe weather that would affect Stony Brook’s travel.

This is UIC’s first appearance in the postseason city they took part in the CIT back in 2013.


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