Illini Basketball: Path to NCAA Tournament After Braggin’ Rights Win


Now that Illini basketball has its first quality win of the season, a 70-64 decision over Mizzou, perhaps they can build on this now moving forward. The Missouri Tigers aren’t nationally ranked, but they came into this game with a RPI of 7 and a SoS of 11. Illinois entered the evening with RPI 188 and SoS 197.

So obviously, there’s a lot of work to do, just to be in contention for any kind of postseason tournament at all. In the Illini basketball program, the NCAA Tournament is absolutely the only tournament that matters, and it’s obvious that they will need a very strong conference showing in order to be in contention.

illini basketball braggin' rights

Unfortunately, the B1G is very down this year, and you only have two teams that have been consistently ranked within the top 25 this season- Michigan State and Purdue. As of now, those are the only two future Illini basketball opponents in the RPI top 15 (they get the Spartans twice and the Boilers only once). They also have Minnesota and Michigan once, and each of those teams are RPI top 50.

Of course, RPI is a metric with flaws just like any other. In KenPom Mizzou is 54 and Illinois is 87.

The Illini started extremely fast, beginning the game on a 19-5 run and carrying a 20 point lead into halftime. It still wasn’t easy though, not by any means. Missouri was able to cut the deficit all the way down to six in the closing minutes, as this Illini basketball team just couldn’t make their free throws.

One of the major keys to victory for Illinois tonight was the good job they did defensively on Jeremiah Tilmon. The one time Illini signee/blue chip recruit/NBA prospect played 32 minutes but only had five field goal attempts.

Really slow starts and severe late game melt-downs have plagued Illinois this season. However, tonight Illinois was able to avoid both of their two biggest major issues.

“We found a way to not make it easy, and still win,” Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood said when asked what the major takeaway from this victory is.

“I hope this gives this team some confidence, and something to grow on heading into conference play,” he continued.

“We haven’t been making those kind of plays and we haven’t been winning these kinds of games.”

Trent Frazier scored a game and career high 22 points, but it also took him 17 FGAs and 11 FTAs to reach that mark. Leron Black put up a 20 and 7, and oh, he got engaged on the court after the game too. So it’s a happy festivus tonight and it will be a very merry Christmas in his household.

Overall, it was by far the best atmosphere Illinois has played in. 21,289 showed up for a series that has been mired in apathy for several years.

Illini basketball got beat on the boards 41-33, but they also forced Mizzou into 21 turnovers (while committing just 10 themselves) and they held the Tigers to just 38% shooting, and an awful 19% from three point land.

Prior to tonight’s signature win, the best W on the Illini basketball resume was Marshall (RPI 127). Underwood became the fourth out of five Illinois head coaches since to win his inaugural Braggin’ Rights game, following Lon Kruger in 1996, Bill Self in 2000, and Bruce Weber in 2003. Illinois has now won five in a row in this series. 

So where do they go from here? Well, given all the metrics, rankings and numbers we’ve cited, both for this team and their conference, plus the fact that they are now 9-5 overall and 0-2 in league play, what’s the benchmark?

Well you’re going to need a 11-7 B1G record just to be in the march madness conversation. Given the softness of the Illini pre-conference schedule, it’ll likely take a 12-6 conference record to get there. Thus Illini basketball needs to close out the season 12-4, 13-4 including the game scheduled as a courtesy to Jerry Colangelo.

leron black

So there you have it- a 22-9 record would do it.

 Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC and Chicago, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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