Illini Basketball: Updated Postseason Resume and Projections


illini basketball

It’s new year, new you for Illini basketball. In November and December, the Illinois Fighting Illini looked like a NIT at best level team. Now they’re a legitimate Big Ten conference front-runner. As of this writing, they’re currently ranked #21 in the nation and sitting alone atop the league at 7-2.

We’re finally starting to see the tide turn for the better, in Illini revenue sports. Illini basketball, the school’s banner program within the athletic department, is on fire right now, having won six in a row, three consecutive on the road. Now the Josh Whitman era is starting to see some results that justify all of the A.D.’s Deepak Chopra for the retired jock-and-now-executive set style ted talks and elaborate motivational metaphors.

illini basketball

Illini basketball entered the day second nationally in rebounding margin behind only Houston and second in winning percentage improvement above last season, among power five teams, only to West Virginia. After their game today, a dramatic buzzer-beating 64-62 win at Michigan, they’re now the only Big Ten team with a winning record in road league play.

That really says something, given how the league itself is 12-46 on the road this year. How did Illini basketball turn it on once the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020? Was this some kind of Christmas miracle?

There are two main reasons for Illinois getting it together and figuring it out. First, coach Brad Underwood and his staff made the necessary tactical switches defensively.

They are playing more pack line now and it’s working well.

Secondly, Trent Frazier finally got going after a slow start to the season.

In Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, Illinois has arguably the best one-two punch of an inside-outside combination in the league.

However, in basketball, you don’t really have something special until you have a big three, and Frazier, the best player on a really bad team a couple years ago, is looking like that third amigo right now.

Let’s take a look at the Illini basketball resume thus far, and try to figure out where they might finish the season.

Illini Basketball Metrics: 15-5, 7-2 in the league, 11-1 at home, 4-3 away, 1-3 vs. nationally ranked. Net: 31 KenPom: 20, also Real Time RPI shows the orange and blue with a 37 RPI, 62 SoS and their GAMER projection says a 20-10 (13-7).

Of course, their website also looks like they haven’t actually updated the design since the internet was still known as ARPANET only existed within the Department of Defense

Illini Basketball Bad Losses: Mizzou (Net 82), Miami (Net 90)

That Braggin’ Rights flop, against a team of Illini basketball want-a-ways and castoffs hurts; as does the fake rally against the Canes. Both of those teams are very, very blah at best.

illini basketball

Illini Basketball Key Wins: @ Wisconsin (Net 30), Purdue (Net 33) x 2, Michigan (Net 37) x 2 

That first win against the Wolverines, when they ranked in the top five has aged liked oatmeal left in the sink. Had the Illini closed the deal at Maryland that would have been a signature win, but it was still laughably terrible of the polls to have the Terrapins #3 at the time.

Here’s what we know of the rest of the Big Ten, Michigan State is good, the Terps are okay/good at home, Rutgers, Indiana and Iowa seem to be pretty good, then you have a huge mass of mired mediocrity. Then you have Ohio State and Michigan, two teams that were great in 2019, but haven’t solved 2020 yet.

Also, Nebraska is bad and Northwestern is really bad.

ayo dosunmu

Overall, it’s chaos and it’s weird, and it’s fun and interesting, but also maddening and fatiguing at the same time.

Synopsis of Remaining Illini Basketball Schedule

While we don’t see a true signature win on the CV right now, don’t worry about it. As the Big Ten season progresses, the wheat will separate itself from the chafe and those who take care of business and finish with a winning league record will have a resume that’s very solid in the end.

After Minnesota on Thursday, Illinois has four straight against teams currently ranked in the top 25. They also have chances for top 20 and top 15 Net wins aplenty down the stretch. At this point, only a completely unforeseen disaster could keep the Illini out of the tournament.

brad underwood

Illini Basketball Postseason Projections #6 seed, ESPN Bracketology #7 seed, SB Nation #7 seed

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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