Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood appears to have gotten his team back. A squad that looked completely lost after back to back embarrassments at the hands of Penn State and Mizzou, it very much appeared at the time that this season could be a lost one. Then came January 4th, with yet another disaster, this time at Northwestern.
Off the heels of that loss, their worst in Evanston in well over a half-century, it seemed like this team had peaked in early December.
The pendulum has now swung completely in the opposite direction, Illinois finds themselves 6.5 point favorites tonight at home versus Indiana. You can click here for more info about all types of wagering online. The Illini are -278 on the money line, with an over/under of 144. The Illini are 10-7-1 against the spread, heading into the 7:30 tip-off on FS1. The Illini head into this clash against the Hoosiers with a lot of momentum. Illinois absolutely crushed Minnesota on Martin Luther King Day, 78-60, making it five straight now over the Golden Gophers.
It was a battle of the last two teams to register a conference win this season, but MN has remained in the dregs while the Illini have turned their season around with a four-game winning streak.
Illini basketball (13-5, 4-3) entered tonight averaging 76.7 points, 36.4% from 3, while holding opponents to 61.7 points and 24% from 3pt over the course of the three-game winning streak.
Conversely, in the first three league losses, the orange and blue averaged only 61.7 points on 28.2% three-point-shooting, the opposition averaged 72.7 points and made 43.1% from beyond the arc.
That’s a massive improvement, to be sure, and one should expect this upward surge to continue. Why? Because the Big Ten is awful this year, period. No matter how hard the BTN tries to convince you otherwise, the league is terrible, period.
While “there are no off nights in this league” is one of the oldest, most shop-worn cliches ever, for every sport and every league, the Big Ten Network is really ramping up that narrative up to a hard-core mind-numbing level this year.
Watch any game on the BTN this year, and you’ll persistently hear the announcers continually tell you how strong and deep the conference is. Hey, they are propagandists for a reason, and those chosen to do that job know that they’re getting paid to be propagandists.
The league is okay and has some depth in the sense that everyone other than Minnesota (Illinois is now on its longest winning streak over the Gophers since a school-record 20 consecutive Ws from March 4, 1999 until March 15, 2008), and likely Nebrasketball too, are solid or better.
Well, maybe not Iowa either, as they lost to Eastern Illinois, but still find themselves amazingly 4-3 in the league right now, either. That says oh so much about the overall weakness of the league.
So you do have about 10 or 11 of the 14 teams are at least decent, but that doesn’t mean the league is actually good. While almost no one is terrible, the flip side is no one is actually very good either.
The AP poll agrees, as that’s why you only have two sides ranked in the top 25 right now. Purdue is very good, but they are not the third best team in the country. Do you honestly trust them to get past the second weekend of the NCAA tournament?
Rutgers is good, but they are not the 23rd best team in the country.
So while there is parity (not parody! amazing how many people make this mistake), and there is mediocrity, it sets up well for the Big Ten squad with the most overall pure talent. With the exception of Purdue, that’s this Illini basketball team.
With everyone beating up each other, and the standings always consisting of all these teams bunched together, the most talented team will rack up the wins.
It’s the Big Ten West all over again. It’s everyone regressing to the mean but keep an eye on Illinois and Purdue. The other advantage for Illini basketball is their non-conference resume.
Baylor is the only other team in the country with two KenPom top-10 wins. The Illini beat #3 UCLA on Nov. 18 in Las Vegas and #9 Texas on Dec. 6 at Madison Square Garden.
This Illini basketball team also has three AP top-15 wins, tied with Arizona for the second best in the country, behind only Alabama, who have four.
It’s very important for the postseason resume, given how the only other opportunities left for signature wins are in conference.
And given all that we said about the weakness of the league, well, those only have so much value.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.