Illinois allowed the NCAA tournament selection committee to determine its fate last season, and that didn't work out so well for the Illini.
The plan this season was to avoid that same scenario, but after an inconsistent regular season, Illinois is facing nearly an identical situation. Unless the Illini defeat Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Friday, they will likely be watching Sunday's selection show with one hand over their eyes.
It so happens Michigan is also feeling so-so about its NCAA tournament chances right now. Of course, a win over the Illini would give the Wolverines some security, too.
"I know they're going to come out hungry because they feel like if they win they're in," Illinois senior forward Mike Davis said.
Illinois senior center Mike Tisdale understands what's at stake for both teams.
"They got work to do," Tisdale said. "It's not going to be easy for any of us. They're not going to come in and lay down. I would like to say we are [in the tournament,] but we do have work to do. We're not going to lie down. We're going to play, and we're going to play to win."
Illinois' senior group has experienced some success in the Big Ten tournament. As freshmen, they made a run to the tournament's title game despite being the 10th seed. As sophomores, they defeated Michigan in the quarterfinals and lost to Purdue in the semifinals. Last season, they beat Wisconsin in the quarterfinals and lost in overtime to Ohio State in the semis.
"We've actually done pretty well there lately," Tisdale said of Conseco Fieldhouse. "I feel comfortable on that court. I think the rest of the seniors do as well. I think we'll go out there and hope to make shots."
Senior point guard Demetri McCamey has had some memorable Big Ten tournament games over his career. He put up 26 points in an upset of Purdue as a freshman. He delivered 22 points in last year's game against Ohio State. In his four years, he's averaged 12.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in conference tournament games.
Sophomore guard D.J. Richardson will be looking to follow McCamey's lead this week and try to snap out of a recent funk. Richardson has scored a total of 15 points in his last six games.
Davis has been in Richardson's shoes and has been trying to guide him.
"I told him to just stay positive, think about other things than scoring," Davis said. "When I was a freshman and sophomore, I only thought about scoring. He's not a one-dimensional player. That's something I told him. He's so much more talented than scoring. The scoring will come."
Illinois has stepped up its play in recent weeks. After losing three of four games in late February, the Illini arrive to the Big Ten tournament having won two out of their last three.
"We're playing better now," Tisdale said. "It's a good thing to be playing better at the end. That's the focus. We have to continue doing that."