As I write this post on a gloomy, cold and rainy Chicago day, the Illinois basketball team is in Cancun living it up. Well, they’re probably actually practicing or watching some tape, but I’m guessing they had a little bit of fun along the way. And I’m sure they’ve got a killer view.
The Cancun Challenge actually started in Champaign last week against SIU-Edwardsville, and then continued on last Thursday against Lipscomb. Now they get to actually travel to Cancun, where they will face Richmond tonight at 8:30PM Central.
Coach Bruce Weber is gunning for his 300th win tonight, which will be a nice number for him to take home. Last year’s Richmond team had a nice little run in the NCAA Tournament, ultimately losing to Kansas in the Sweet 16. In fact, if Illinois had beaten Kansas first, then this would’ve been a rematch for the two teams.
This game is supposed to be the first challenge for the Illini (well people said Lipscomb would be the first challenge, but it wasn’t too tough), and while it should be more difficult since they’re away from home, I can’t say this is the same team of Spiders as last year. Richmond is 3-1 for the season, with a loss at Davidson. We all know Davidson Tournament darlings thanks to Stephen Curry, but he’s not there anymore. And since he left that team is hardly the same, either.
Basically, it’s going to be tough to see how much of a challenge Richmond will be until they step onto the court. They are certainly a much more experience team with five seniors, and they’ve got some height here and there (Josh Duinker and Luke Piotrowski are both 6-11). Since neither team has really played a tough game as of yet – and Illinois hasn’t left the comfy confines of the Assembly Hall – this game has the potential to be a really exciting one. Unfortunately, I’m not interested in exciting, I’d rather win.
On the plus side for Illinois, I will not be in attendance for their early-season tourney this year, as Cancun just wasn’t in the budget (instead I’m saving my pennies for Hawaii next year!). I went to Vegas two years ago and then New York last year, only to watch a team other than Illinois win the tournament. In Vegas, they didn’t win squat, while last year they lost to Texas and then beat Maryland. No one on the team has won a tournament, and so everyone has their eye on the prize.
Right now, Illinois has a few AP votes, which is a tad premature, but a tournament win this weekend would certainly raise their stock, and the confidence of the youngsters. After facing Richmond, Illinois with either play against Rutgers or Illinois State – both entirely beatable teams. Every year I feel like they Illini have a chance to win a tournament, but this year, I’m sort of expecting them to win. No pressure or anything!
The game will be airing on the CBS Sports Network at 8:30pm.