Monday , Mar , 14 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

It’s the “Road” to the Final Four for Illinois

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Illinois may have lost a chance to become
the first undefeated national champion since 1976 with its setback last
weekend, but the Illini appear to have an easy “Road” to the Final Four.

Illinois (32-1), which has been the top-ranked team in the polls for the past
14 weeks, earned the top seed in the Chicago bracket after capturing the Big
Ten Tournament title on Sunday with a 54-43 victory over Wisconsin.

“Big Ten [regular-season] champs, now tournament champs. We got one more to
win,” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber after capturing the Big Ten title
on Sunday.

The reward for the Illini was a three-week “Road” trip that will likely end up
in St. Louis. The Fighting Illini probably won’t have to make a plane ride
should they continue to win, as they will play close to home in Indianapolis
— 125 miles from campus — for the first two rounds and play in their home
away from home of Chicago for the regionals.

Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament title at Chicago’s United Center and the
Second City is just 135 miles north of Champaign.

The Fighting Illini are a top seed for the third time in their history, having
also earned No. 1 seeds in 1989 when they went to the Final Four and in 2001
when they lost in the regional final.

The Chicago bracket will tip off Thursday from Indianapolis with Illinois
facing Northeast Conference champ Fairleigh Dickinson (20-12) and Texas
(20-10) taking on WAC regular season champ Nevada (24-6) in the eight-nine
game.

Also on Thursday in the Chicago region from Cleveland, fourth-seeded Boston
College (24-4), the Big East regular season co-champ, will square off with Ivy
League winner Penn (20-8) and fifth-seeded Alabama (24-7) will meet Horizon
League champ Wisconsin-Milwaukee (24-5).

The other half of the Chicago bracket will have first-round games on Friday in
Oklahoma City, giving second-seeded Oklahoma State a distinct advantage
against Southland winner Southeastern Louisiana (24-8). The other game Friday
in Oklahoma City has seventh-seeded Southern Illinois (26-7), the MVC regular
season champ, against St. Mary’s-CA (25-8) of the West Coast Conference.

In Boise, Idaho on Thursday, Chicago bracket games feature third-seeded
Arizona (27-6), the Pac-10 regular season champ, against Big West tourney
winner Utah State (24-7) and sixth-seeded LSU (20-9) against UAB (21-10).

A possible regional semifinal in the Chicago bracket could pit Oklahoma State
against Arizona, with the winner possibly moving on to face Illinois in the
regional final.

That shouldn’t be a problem for the Illini, who will have a majority of their
fans rooting them on in the Windy City. St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome is
then just 174 miles away.