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A No. 1 seed (Illinois) hopes to grow on Long Island

Illinois guard Demetri McCamey drives with the ball

Illinois guard Demetri McCamey drives with the ball in their 88-81 double overtime loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten semifinals. (March 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty

Illinois will bring more than a century of tradition when it arrives, however reluctantly, in Stony Brook for its NIT opener Wednesday night.

The Illini were playing basketball in the really old days of sports, back when the Rangers had to play Stanley Cup home games on the road because they were supplanted by the circus.

The Illini, regrettably, can identify. Their home court, Assembly Hall in Champaign, is booked for Cirque du Soleil, so the program that dates to 1906 will visit one that began Division I ball in 1999. The game will be at Stony Brook Arena at 9 p.m.

"We're a No. 1 seed and that's part of being a No. 1 seed, playing at home," coach Bruce Weber said Monday in a conference call. "But these are just unusual circumstances."

Weber had just watched a tape of Stony Brook beating Vermont for the America East regular-season title at Pritchard Gymnasium and was impressed.

"They're going to have a Big Ten team in there, so I know they're going to play with a lot of emotion," Weber said. "I know it's a school of about 20,000 to 22,000. They're going to be playing in a renovated arena and I'm sure it's going to be exciting for them. It's not going to be easy."

Weber knows that his challenge is to get his team over the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament. He considers the prospect of the semifinals at Madison Square Garden to be an incentive for next year. "But," he said, "we've got to win in Long Island, New York first."

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