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nit tournament

Our ‘Dream’ of an Illini Game Right by Our Home

CHAMPAIGN, IL - DECEMBER 03:  Meyers Leonard #12 of the Illinois Fighting Illini moves against Robert Sacre #00 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Assembly Hall on December 3, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois defeated Gonzaga 82-75.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Meyers Leonard; Robert Sacre

Excuse the self-indulgent aside here, but we just noticed something: There is about a 6 percent chance that our beloved Illinois Fighting Illini — our alma mater and spirit animal — could play about ten minutes from our apartment in Brooklyn in two weeks. Here's how it would work. The Illini, likely to miss the NCAA Tournament and fire coach Bruce Weber at season's end, are going to end up in the NIT as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. (This mock NIT bracket has them No. 3, so we're assuming they pad their NIT resume with a win or two. And yes, there are NIT brackets, what of it?) Meanwhile, Long Island — whose campus and arena are right by Junior's in Brooklyn, a ten minute walk from our Cobble Hill apartment — won the regular season Northeast Conference championship, assuring them of an NIT bid if they're unable to win the NEC tournament, which begins tomorrow. Were they to make the NIT, they'd end up with a No. 7 or No. 8 seed, which would give them a legitimate shot to be matched up with the Illini. Now, the higher seed hosts games in the NIT, but here's the rub: Assembly Hall, home of the Illini, is hosting the East Central Illinois Business Expo when the NIT first round would be played, so Illinois would have to play on the road in the first round. (Just like they did at Stony Brook two years ago, because of Cirque du Soleil.) Which brings us back to a 6 percent chance that Illinois would be forced to play at Long Island, a ten-minute walk from our apartment. We'd prefer Illinois (and Long Island, for that matter) to make the NCAA tournament, but if they don't, this is without question the next best thing.

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Photo: Jonathan Daniel/2011 Getty Images