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Bubble Battle - UF vs. Illinois

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Today I’m going to look at two bubble teams that lost on Tuesday night and which one I believe has a better chance of getting an at-large NCAA Tournament bid (obviously not expecting either to win its conference tournament):

Illinois Fighting Illini: 18-12 overall, 10-7 in Big Ten. Illinois lost to Ohio State (a lock NCAA Tournament team) by 16 on Tuesday night and have dropped four of their past five games overall. Their Illini’s RPI as of Wednesday was No. 71 with a strength of schedule of 49th.

Florida Gators: 20-10 overall, 9-6 in SEC. Florida lost to Vanderbilt (a lock NCAA Tournament team) 64-60 at home on Tuesday night and have now lost two games in a row and four of seven. The Gators’ RPI as of Wednesday was No. 50 with a strength of schedule of 40th.

So who gets the edge upon first glance? You would have to say Florida, with those two additional wins overall and the higher RPI and SOS.

Both teams have one game remaining Sunday, and the opponent will raise both teams’ strength of schedule. Illinois is home to No. 15 Wisconsin, while UF is at No. 3 Kentucky. Certainly both could use an upset to boost their NCAA Tournament resumes, with Florida a cinch to get a bid if the Gators somehow become the first team to win at Kentucky this year (no chance). For what it’s worth, the Wildcats beat the Gators by 12 back on Gainesville on Jan. 12.

Wisconsin was shocked in Madison by the Illini on Feb. 9 for the Badgers first loss ever to an unranked conference opponent under coach Bo Ryan (51-1). It also ended UW’s 18-game home winning streak. Don’t think the committee won’t pay attention to that stellar road win by the Illini, who have been decent against ranked teams this season with a 4-6 record. Their best win was over then-No. 5 Michigan State, but those Spartans were missing top player Kalin Lucas that day. It’s not good the Illini were swept by both Purdue and Ohio State, but doing the same do the Badgers almost evens that out. A win Sunday would get Illinois a top-five seed in the Big Ten tournament and a first-round bye.

The Gators’ best win of the year, ironically enough, also came against Michigan State. That came back on Nov. 27 in a neutral-site game when the Spartans were No.2 in the nation (and clearly overrated). Unfortunately for Billy Donovan and Co. they have only one other win against a ranked team (Tennessee) against four losses to Top 25 foes. They are penalized for playing in the relatively weak SEC.

I’m going to give the edge to the Illini here because I think they play in a stronger conference and have a good shot to beat Wisconsin, while Florida has next to none to beat Kentucky. That means UF would enter the SEC Tournament on a three-game losing streak, including one to lousy Georgia (a team that beat Illinois earlier this season, it must be noted).

Frankly, both teams probably need at least one win in the conference tournament to get a bid – and hope there aren’t a lot of upsets in the mid-major tournaments.

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