Illini at Second Home Today

Today the Illini will be playing in the Big Ten Tournament for the 10th consecutive year. Advantage Illinois? Who knows, but in recent years the Illini have done quite well in this end of the year event. It helps playing at their second home - the United Center in Chicago.

*Today at 4:00 p.m. on ESPN 2 the Illini will take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Illini come in as the sixth seed and Penn State as the 11th seed. Since the start of the Big Ten Tournament, it's the first time since 1999 that Illinois will play on the first day.

* The Illini come in today as an 11 point favorite and should take care of business. Most "experts" that have a say so in the field of 64 seem to think Illinois is either in, or needs to beat the Nittany Lions to assure themselves of a win. This expert doesn't feel that way. Illinois is 21-10 / 9-7. As Coach Weber stated last week during his press conference, "No Big Ten team with more than 20 wins and a winning record in the league has been left out of the NCAA tournament since the field has been expanded to 64." Today if the Illini beat the Lions it just helps their seed the way I see it.

* Just a couple weeks ago Illinois beat Penn State on the road 68-50. All Big Ten performer Shaun Pruitt led the way with 20 points. Also, last time out Illinois was able to dominate the paint. Penn State Head Coach Ed DeChellis said, "The last time we played them their big guys just owned us; this time out we will have to make some changes."

* Illinois has the most wins in the Big Ten Tourney with 16 games. They also have the best winning percentage (69%) with a 16-7 record at the United Center. Most coaches feel it's an unfair advantage for Illinois to play there. Recently the Big Ten office has decided to move the tournament to Conceco Field House in Indianapolis for good. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are two other Big Ten teams from Indiana - the Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers.

* Over the years Illinois has somewhat owned the record books in the tournament: second most points in a game (29) by Luther Head; assists in one game first with 11 by Frank Williams; rebounds second by James Augustine with 15; and three-point field goals tied for first with 6 by Cory Bradford. In 1999 when the Illini had that magical run, they finished the conference with a record of 3-13. During that run they beat Minnesota, Indiana, and second-seeded Ohio State before losing to Michigan State in the Championship game.

*History buff or not, playing in Chicago for a team that plays great defense and a coach that's been on the big stage, Illinois has just as good a chance to win this year's Big Ten tournament as any team in the league.

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