Tough luck for Illinois as yet another 12 seed goes down

Gotta feel for Bruce Webber and Illinois.

After leading for pretty much the entire game against Virginia Tech behind hard-nosed defense and workmanlike offense, the Illini had a chance to win the game down by one with about 20 seconds to go.

The only problem is, they never were able to get off the shot, thanks to the referees.

I don’t know what referee crew was working that game, but they should be fined or suspended for what they allowed to transpire. It’s commonplace for referees to allow an extra measure of contact in the waning moments of a contest, but the no-call in the last minute of that game was beyond egregious. If you didn’t see it, you should – the shooter got absolutely raked across the wrist bringing the ball up to shooting position, and the ball squirted straight up in the air without the ball getting near the rim.

Illinois got another chance when an overzealous Tech defender fouled on a loose ball, but, down two, the 60 percent free throw shooter was unable to even convert the front end of the one-and-one.

I wasn’t exactly heartbroken that another one of my Sweet Sixteen picks was able to survive, so I’m not sad Illinois lost. You just hate to see it happen that way.

Other thoughts from the early evening games:

  • The Pac-10 isn’t exactly doing itself any favors in this Tournament. While UCLA and WSU looked pretty impressive in their openers, Oregon looked shaky, Stanford looked horrible, and now Arizona is out after losing to Purdue in yet another inexplicably uninspired NCAA Tournament game. The Boilermakers absolutely outplayed, outworked and outhustled the Wildcats, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and winning just about every loose ball. How a team can look so dispassionate in the NCAA Tournament is completely beyond me. The Wildcats have so much talent, yet after 30 or so games, they still couldn’t figure out how to play together. Back to the drawing board, Lute.

  • Don’t be fooled by the close margin in the Texas/New Mexico State game. Reggie Theus has assembled a pretty good collection of talent down there in Las Cruces, and showed a good ability to make nice adjustments throughout the game against the Longhorns. A prime example: When Texas had stretched its lead out to 12 midway through the second half, I turned to my wife and said, “Game over.” That’s typically when an undermanned mid-major runs out of gas. Theus put the foot to the gas, calling for a full-court press, and few 3’s later, the Aggies were right back in it. If you’re looking for a little Gonzaga-type action, NMSU might tickle your fancy for the next few years.

  • Another reason not to be fooled by the closeness of that game? Texas was playing its fourth game in eight days after playing three in three days in the Big 12 Tournament. In those three games, Texas’ big three – Durant, Augustin and Abrams – each played at least 36 minutes in each game. They all played over 40 minutes in the OT thriller against Kansas in the championship on Sunday. Don’t forget: Durant and Augustin are freshmen; Durant especially looked a bit lethargic today. If the Longhorns can survive this weekend and get a little rest next week, I think they can make the run most of us believe they’re capable of.

  • USC/Arkansas just tipped off, and six minutes in, the Trojans better figure out a way to match the Razorbacks’ intensity. Arkansas definitely doesn’t look like a team just happy to be here after its improbable SEC Tournament run. Here’s to betting if USC can withstand the early adrenaline-fueled storm, the Trojans’ talent will take over and they’ll win.

Latest Bracket Challenge standing above. Newsflash: I still suck.

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