Season mercifully comes to an end.
Shortly after Illinois fired basketball coach Bruce Weber Friday, the Illini voted against playing in the NIT, said a source inside the program. Guess they got the memo at the tournament's selection office. The Illini were passed up for the 32-team bracket on Selection Sunday. While Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota were chosen from the Big Ten and Illinois State made it to the NIT after nearly stealing the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title, Illinois was left out of the tournament after losing 12 of 14 games to finish the season. That's not to say the Illini weren't on the bubble because of their own doing. Illinois hadn't won a meaningful game in a month. Of course, the players don't make the call on playing. In the long run, this might have been a merciful end to a season gone awry. Illinois (17-15) failed to play in any postseason twice in the last five seasons. Illinois also packed the uniforms in 2008 after posting a losing season. Illinois already said it wouldn't play in the CBI and CIT, two other postseason tournaments with less exposure and respect than the NIT. "Any time Illinois is not involved in postseason play, it hurts, so we’re disappointed,'' said interim coach Jerrance Howard in a prepared statement. "This should serve as motivation heading into the offseason, so we don’t feel this way next year on Selection Sunday.'' Northwestern earned a No. 4 seed in the NIT, joined by No. 6 Minnesota and No. 7 Iowa. The Illini have a win against all three. Illinois also defeated Illinois State. The Redbirds are a No. 7 seed. One day after the source said the players voted against playing in the NIT, former Illini forward Mike Davis tweeted "my Illini boys turned down the NIT!'' With the season officially done, the next step is hiring a coach and keeping the roster together. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard is expected to jump to the NBA draft. A team spokesman said the six-man freshman class met with Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas Friday to say they were committed to the program. Howard will likely be courted by power conference heavyweights who want to add his Chicago connections to their recruiting territory. Thomas indicated Howard's desire to stay and work for the next Illini head coach, but that decision would ultimately fall on the next hire. Thomas didn't have any plans for team workouts when announcing his move with Weber Friday. One likelihood is that the program will save the limited number of workouts until a new coaching staff is in place.