"Final destination: Illini have fans behind them on date with destiny" / SI.com

"When Coach Weber put 'St. Louis' on the chalkboard at the beginning of the year," said Illini fan Steven King of Lewisville, Ill., a front-row spectator at Friday's open practice, "so did we."

It's been said on numerous occasions that the Illini are a "team of destiny," what with the coinciding forces of a 29-0 start, a geographically favorable bracket (Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis, all less than three hours from campus) and this being the program's 100th year of basketball. It's a sentiment that has grown stronger ever since the death of Weber's 81-year-old mother at the start of the postseason and their miraculous Elite Eight comeback against Arizona.

"That word - [destiny] - is getting thrown around a lot right now," said Smith. "I hope people are right."

"St. Louis was one of the goals we talked about since the time I got the job [two years ago]," said Weber, who, shortly after returning from last year's Final Four, hung a miniature Arch in the locker room. "All year we've seen the March to the Arch posters, then all of a sudden we're coming across the bridge [Wednesday night], the city is lit up and there's the Arch. A couple of kids were joking about it, but I think it hit them that we were truly here."

According to Smith, Weber first addressed the possibility of the potential Indianapolis-Chicago-St. Louis tourney run - the most favorable a Final Four team has enjoyed since 2000 champ Michigan State played in Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis - to his players at a meeting the day before their first preseason practice. Sure enough, the homecourt advantage has paid dividends.