A message from bracketologist Jerry Palm to the Illinois basketball team: Don't mess it up. When the Illini host Indiana on Saturday in a Big Ten Conference game at Assembly Hall on senior day, the biggest responsibility for a group of four seniors isn't picking up the framed jersey or handing the flowers to Mom. With so much on the line, Illinois decided to move the ceremonies until after the game. The Illini can't afford another bad loss if they want an NCAA tournament berth, and falling to Indiana on the home floor would qualify as something worse than a bad loss.

CHAMPAIGN -- A message from bracketologist Jerry Palm to the Illinois basketball team:


Don't mess it up.


When the Illini host Indiana on Saturday in a Big Ten Conference game at Assembly Hall on senior day, the biggest responsibility for a group of four seniors isn't picking up the framed jersey or handing the flowers to Mom. With so much on the line, Illinois decided to move the ceremonies until after the game. The Illini can't afford another bad loss if they want an NCAA tournament berth, and falling to Indiana on the home floor would qualify as something worse than a bad loss.


"If they don't screw it up, they should find their way in,'' said Palm, who predicts the bracket for CBSsports.com and collegerpi.com. "But they're not going to like their seed.


"Their profile is lame. They've done nothing off their home floor. They've already got a couple bad losses. That's why they can't take any more, and they're capable of that.''


If they get into the 68-team field, Palm said, the Illini will likely be a double-digit seed and could fall into the First Four -- the four games that pig tail into the rest of the NCAA bracket. With a win over Indiana, Illinois would clinch a spot in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals against the Michigan-Michigan State winner Saturday, and beating the Spartans or Wolverines would also help the the Illini.


Palm predicted the Big Ten would get five teams in the NCAA field of 68 but didn't know which five. Illinois' standing is "decent,'' he said, but Palm wasn't sure about Michigan or Michigan State.


If they qualify for the NCAA field, the Illini would likely start no better than a No. 9 or 10 seed, Palm said, barring a "miracle'' run in the conference tournament. Palm and ESPN bracketology each had Illinois as a No. 10 seed Friday.


Meanwhile, Purdue would likely join Ohio State as a No. 1 seed only if the Boilermakers win the conference tournament title, Palm said.


"Purdue would probably have to win the conference tournament and beat Ohio State to do it,'' he said. "It's not out of the realm of possibilities.''


The Illini lost 52-49 at Indiana on Jan. 27 -- joining the loss to Illinois-Chicago as the two biggest warts on the season. Indiana stands 177 in one respected RPI. The Hoosiers are 1-8 since beating the Illini.


"We have to keep winning to help our resume,'' Illini guard Demetri McCamey said. "We'll just have to wait to Selection Sunday. It's out of our hands. Last year, we all thought we were in.''


Perhaps the Illini are heating up just in the nick of time. Over the last three games, Illinois shot 52.4 percent from the field. The Illini shot 50 percent or better in each game, the first such streak since the first three conference games.


"The last two or three weeks, other than the defense at Ohio State, we played more like I thought we could, and hopefully that will continue,'' said Illinois coach Bruce Weber.


It was about getting everyone to play well at the same time, because each Illini fell into a slump sometime during the season.


"We lost confidence as individuals, then it was how to find each guy and get them out of their pity party,'' Weber said. "It's been one by one.''


McCamey and senior forward Mike Davis bounced back from slumps, although Weber prodded Davis for better defense and more rebounding.


"Demetri is back,'' senior forward Bill Cole said.


Cole's shooting cooled off down the stretch, when he's 0-for-12 from the 3-point line in the last five games. Senior center Mike Tisdale shot 60 percent over the last five games, when he reached double figures three times. Guard D.J. Richardson started at Purdue despite being slowed by a sore groin. His 15 minutes were one away from Richardson's season low, but he's improved this week. Key reserve Jereme Richmond is also playing harder, Weber said.


"You see the process starting to get better,'' Cole said. "We're starting to get up to a peak here. If we get clicking on all cylinders, we're tough to handle. I'm looking forward to the (rest) of the season.''


 


Indiana (12-18, 3-14) at Illinois (18-12, 8-9)


11 a.m., Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign (BTN, Illinois Sports Network)


ILLINOIS (18-12, 8-9)


F Mike Davis Sr. 6-9 12.1 7.0


F Bill Cole Sr. 6-9 4.9 2.6


C Mike Tisdale Sr. 7-1 10.1 6.3


G D.J. Richardson So. 6-3 8.6 1.8


G Demetri McCamey Sr. 6-3 14.8 3.4


INDIANA (12-18, 3-14)


F Christian Watford So. 6-9 16.3 5.5


C Tom Pritchard Jr. 6-9 2.6 3.9


G Jordan Hulls So. 6-0 11.3 2.4


G Jeremiah Rivers Sr. 6-5 3.7 3.1


G Verdell Jones III Jr. 6-5 12.8 3.2


Noteworthy: Under coach Bruce Weber, Illinois won 10 of the 15 games against Indiana, but the Hoosiers held the Illini to season lows of 49 points and 17 points in the second half during the three-point win in Bloomington, Ind., on Jan. 27. Hulls scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, and Pritchard's tip in with 44 seconds left was the go-ahead basket. Davis (14) was the only player to reach double figures for the Illini.


Key for Illini: Simple formula. Repeat the effort shown at Purdue.


Key for Hoosiers: Create Hulls some space, like they did in the first meeting vs. Illinois.


Key quote: "Once you win, it's easier for people to love you.'' -- Illini guard Demetri McCamey.


Betting line: 


Prediction: Illinois 74, Indiana 62