Illinois can breathe a sigh of relief, if you want to believe ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. After checking his numbers earlier this week, Lunardi moved the Illini up to a No. 9 in his NCAA bracket, and that's too far to fall out of the 68-team entirely or drop into the play-in games held early next week.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Illinois can breathe a sigh of relief, if you want to believe ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

After checking his numbers earlier this week, Lunardi moved the Illini up to a No. 9 in his NCAA bracket, and that's too far to fall out of the 68-team entirely or drop into the play-in games held early next week.

"I don't think Illinois can fall out or fall to Dayton,'' Lunardi said Wednesday. "(At No. 9), that would be too far to fall, given that it wouldn't be a terrible loss.''

Fifth-seeded Illinois (19-12) opens with fourth-seeded Michigan (19-12) in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals Friday (1:25 p.m., ESPN). Michigan is also considered a bubble team after winning eight of its last 11 games. Lunardi said the Illini moved up higher in his bracket this week after adjusting his numbers while doing championship week check-up.

"There aren't many games on Monday and Tuesday,'' he said. "I really look at how I've been evaluating teams. When it gets to today, tomorrow or Friday, if it gets to be if I was wrong Monday or Tuesday, I'm likely going to compound the mistake. Illinois moved up in that scrubbing process.''

Lunardi sees Notre Dame and either Purdue or Wisconsin as the two seeds likely headed to Chicago, so Purdue and Wisconsin have something up for grabs when they play in the conference tournament.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.