How refreshing is it to watch an Illini team that is resilient.
This team was supposed to be a lot better this year and was expected to be on at least the fringe of the NCAA tournament. All of those things appear to be true, but the way they have happened are different than I expected.
Going on the road and beating Wisconsin was something I did not see coming. That’s me not expecting it may have had more to do with how hard it is to win in Madison than it did my faith in the Illini.
Not only do you have to beat an always-pesky Badgers team, you have to beat the refs. The Illini were able to do that for the first time since 2010 and beat Wisconsin for the first time regardless of where it was played in 15 games.
But this team showed so much resiliency throughout the game to be able to fight through everything. In the first half almost all of the key players were in foul trouble and the Badgers were shooting free throws what seemed like every possession.
Illinois never let the game get away and were able to have a chance at the end.
Alan Griffin and Trent Frazier hit key threes, which set up the biggest shot of the game, which was Ayo Dosunmo’s game-clinching three with 40 seconds to go. That win meant a ton to the team’s confidence, and I think it showed on Saturday.
Saturday’s win over Rutgers might have been just as impressive.
If you have a chance to win a game when you play bad you have to do it. In this Big Ten there are going to be crazy games and you may let one slip away even when you play good. So winning that game after playing bad was huge.
I would consider shooting under 30 percent playing poorly, and they found a way to win the game. That was a huge win and put the team solely in possession of second place in the Big Ten, which doesn’t mean a whole lot yet but is a welcome sight, especially in given the past five years of how the Big Ten slate has started for the Illini.
Now you can start to look ahead and see how the schedule shakes out and see what the chances are for the Illini to stay near the top of the standings.
llinois has a week off between games before taking on in-state rival Northwestern on Saturday.
That game is a 100 percent must win. Northwestern is just not very good, and you have to continue to win all your home games. As of this writing, the Wildcats are 1-4 in conference and 6-9 overall. They are in a down season, and the Illini get to play them twice, which has to be a win in both games.
After the Northwestern game, the Illini hit the road to take on a Purdue team that they just beat the breaks off of a week and a half ago. Everyone knows that game will play out differently this time around because of it being played in Mackey Arena -- one of the toughest places to play in the country.
That game is not a must win, but it is a game the Illini would love to add to the resume. Not only does it help the standings, it helps the NCAA tournament resume. Anytime you can sweep a Big Ten team you have to take the opportunity, especially a team like the Boilermakers who will be on the NCAA bubble at the end of the season.
The Illini then head to Michigan, which is a team the Illini have also already beaten. That game will be one of the toughest games Illinois will have left on the schedule. On the road against a good team that is going to want revenge is going to be a battle.
I think it is a game the Illini can win, but I think it is a game that if you’re trying to figure out what the Illini’s final record would be it will be a safer bet to mark as a loss for now. If the Illini do come in on a five-game win streak I may think differently.
A positive for the Illini is that they will hit the second half of the Big Ten stretch with already having played Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan. So if you’re heading into the last 10 games of the Big Ten schedule already over .500, you are feeling great because of the giants you have already gotten out of the way on the road.
You can contact Ran Birch at Rbirch@Rantoulpress.com or on Twitter @RyanBirchRP