Valparaiso at Illinois -9 O/U 140
Valparaiso accepted the last at-large bid into the NIT tournament as a 7th seed and will face second seed Illinois. The Crusaders return to the court for the first time since they scored just 12 points in the first half of an evental 43-41 loss to UW-Milwaukee in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League tournament.
Illinois (18-14) enters the NIT in a unique spot as interim coach Jamall Walker take over after John Groce was fired over the weekend. The good news for Illinois is that the Crusaders' best player, Alec Peters, is out with an injury. Peters led Valpo with 23 ppg and 10 rpg. He's a Big Ten caliber player and one that is likely to have him name called in the NBA Draft. Not having to account for Peters gives an already solid Illinois defense a big edge.
Here's what Walker had to say about the situation: "It's the NIT," Walker said. " It's who's prepared and ready to play. Who's excited to play, who wants to play more than anything else." Walker says expects his players, especially the seniors, to go out with a bang. He compares his team to a stubborn fighter that just won't give up. "This team's been knocked down; our staff's been knocked down. I'll be honest I feel like we've done a good job with dusting ourselves off and moving straight forward. We're like that puncher that just keeps getting hit and knocked down and you're like 'man, just go down', and we refuse. And we're going to continue to until they run us out of here as a group and the seniors play their last game."
A lot of Walker said is not doubt "coach speak" but he's correct in saying the the Illini have showed the ability to fight. At one point the Illini were 14-12 and only 4-9 in Big Ten play but got themselves into the "bubble" conversation with four straight wins. If we get a decent effort from the home side, I feel that a blowout win awaits.