If you have watched college basketball this year, you have probably noticed that there are few, if any, really good teams.
To prove my point, look no further than the Big Ten. Michigan State beating Northwestern last Wednesday was the only thing stopping the Big Ten from having a 14-way tie for first place.
Michigan State improved to 2-0 in conference, and Northwestern dropped to 0-2. All of the other 12 teams were 1-1. This conference is probably one of the best in the country, but it is for sure the most confusing.
The good news for the Illini is that everyone, including Michigan State, is going to be beatable. The bad news for Illinois is that everyone, including Northwestern, could probably beat them.
That sets up a great conference slate to where every game every night is one that you will want to tune into.
With all that being said I think the Illini have high hopes heading into conference play. The Illini have set themselves up with a chance to make the NCAA tournament. And with the Big Ten being as tough as it is this season, I would foresee a 10-10 conference record getting the Illini in comfortably.
Even so, there is no way everyone will cruise right down the middle and have the same record. Teams like Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan are probably going to separate themselves in a good way.
Teams like Northwestern, Minnesota and Nebraska that have all really struggled in the non-conference are probably going to separate themselves in a bad way.
But the point still stands that the bottom-dwellers can probably beat almost anyone on a good night while the top-tier squads could lose to anyone on a bad night. But I think you will still see more separation than we are currently seeing.
So where does that leave Illinois? It sure seems closer to the Michigan State and Maryland group than the Nebraska and Minnesota group. While getting to 10-10 will probably get the Illini in, if they can protect home court and then avoid losses to the bottom feeders, I think 12-8 and maybe even 13-7 are realistic.
Figuring out this conference is probably going to be difficult to do and their will be madness before March.
Regardless of how it turns out, at least I could write this column with confidence that the Illini can side step the craziness and find themselves in the tournament. That is something I could not have done in the past.
You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@RantoulPress.com or on twitter @RyanBirchRP.