Groce: NIT is a "great opportunity"

Published 03/17 2014 05:39PM

Updated 03/17 2014 06:34PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - They aren't playing in the NCAA Tournament, but the Illinois basketball season will continue.  The Illini were chosen Sunday night to play in the NIT.  They will open up at Boston University Wednesday night at 6:00 pm on ESPN2.

Only 32 teams get to play in the NIT, and Illinois will be considered one of the favorites to reach the final four at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  The Illini are playing some great basketball.  They have won five of their last seven games, including three straight road wins.  It may not be the NCAAs, but head coach John Groce is looking forward to taking his team on a deep run.

"It's a great environment - a great place to play basketball - it's a great opportunity for our team," Groce said.  "We're excited about the opportunity.  I think our guys are too.  I saw that in the locker room when I look in their eyes after the [Big Ten Tourney loss to Michigan.]  We like one another.  Our team is very close.  I've had a lot of fun coaching this group so we want to keep it going as long as we can."

Illinois' opponent Boston University (24-10) was the Patriot League regular season champion, but they lost to American in the championship game of the conference tournament.  This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.  Illinois is the two-seed - Boston is the 7-seed, but Illinois cannot host because of the State Farm Center renovation project.  Groce told reporters there has never been any consideration to play an NIT game off-campus or at any other building on Illinois' campus.

"That wasn't even discussed," Groce said.  "I knew from jump street if in face we were in a tournament that gave us the opportunity to play at home that we would not be able to do that."

Illinois is 7-4 all-time in the NIT.  This will be their first appearance since they reached the quarterfinals in 2010.

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