Illini say NCAA hopes still alive

Published 03/03 2014 05:22PM

Updated 03/03 2014 10:45PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois' postseason hopes got a big lift Saturday when Illinois beat No. 18 Michigan State in East Lansing.  Now, believe it or not, their NCAA Tournament chances are still alive if they can finish strong.

It would take wins over Michigan Tuesday and at Iowa Saturday, but three straight wins over the last two weeks as the Illini's tourney chances back on life support.  They say their goal of making the Dance never changed, even after they lost eight games in a row earlier this year.

"During the hard times, that's still always the goal that we had," said senior Jon Ekey.  "We have it in our locker room.  Every time you walk in there you see it.  That's one of the program goals coach Groce has."

At Monday's news conference, head coach John Groce was asked if there was any benefit to playing in the NIT over the NCAA Tournament.

"No," Groce responded emphatically.  "I've said before - and again I'm biased, but I think it's the greatest tournament in the world.  Why wouldn't you want to be in the greatest tournament in the world?"

Illinois hosts No. 12 Michigan Tuesday night (6:00 pm, ESPN).

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