A look at the Illinois basketball path to the NCAA tournament

It was exciting to see the women's Illinois basketball team go dancing last season. Despite a tough start to the 2023-24 campaign, there is still a path to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Indiana v Illinois
Indiana v Illinois / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

Don’t look now, but the women’s Illinois basketball team is starting to put it together.

I have said it before and I will say it again, the Illini aren’t far from being squarely in contention for back-to-back NCAA tournament berths. We have had five games where we lost by six points or fewer. Illinois also had both No. 12 Ohio State and No. 16 Indiana on the ropes but came up just short.

Illinois once boasted an 8-10 record but that record didn’t tell the whole story. This team has been competitive in nearly every game this season. Over the last couple of games, the Illini have elevated their performance a step higher, and the results are finally going in our favor.

A great comeback win over Minnesota lit a fire under Illinois. It also started Makira Cook’s resurgence, as she hasn’t quite been able to get cookin’ this season after dealing with an injury. Her 22 points helped Illinois get over the finish line against the Golden Gophers.

On Wednesday night, Illinois had a business trip up to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. Mind you, this isn’t a bad Wolverines program, as they entered the night 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten. They also beat Illinois by 36 points, 84-48, earlier this season.

The Illini didn’t care about the record. We went out and showed the world that this is a solid program and will continue to be solid under the leadership of Shauna Green.

Illinois kept the Wolverines at an arms-length for much of the game. Cook continued to cook, as she had her second-straight 20-point game, finishing with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range.

Honestly, the player I have been most impressed with this season is Camille Hobby. She has been incredible for the Illini. Her rebounding ability takes some heat off of Kendall Bostic, and Hobby’s mid-range is arguably the best on the team. The addition of her to this team has been incredible.

There is a path for the women’s Illinois basketball team to make the NCAA tournament

As a team, I am extremely impressed that the Illini didn’t pack it up early on. We hit some bumps in the road, but the leaders on this team rallied the troops and we are still fighting.

Now that Illinois is 10-10 on the season and 4-6 in the Big Ten, is there a realistic path to get back to the NCAA tournament?

I actually believe there might be a shot at the Big Dance for the second year in a row. The win over Michigan moves Illinois from No. 55 to No. 47 in the updated NET Rankings. Here is how the Illini have fared in the quads.

  • Quad 1: 1-5
  • Quad 2: 1-3
  • Quad 3: 1-1
  • Quad 4: 7-0

Illinois has a tough road ahead as well. This gives us a chance to win some quality games and to sneak into the NCAA tournament.

Out of the eight games left on the Illini schedule, four of the contests are against Quad 1 teams. We have Indiana and Nebraska at home and Iowa and Michigan State on the road. Each of those teams ranks inside the top 30 in NET Rankings. Illinois then has two Quad 2 games, one Quad 3 game, and one Quad 4 contest.

Illinois has to take care of business against the non-Quad 1 teams. That would give us four wins. If the Illini can split the four Quad 1 games and come out 2-2 in those four contests, that would put our record at 16-12 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten. Illinois would have three Quad 1 wins and a solid NET Ranking.

If the Illini can accomplish that goal and then win a couple of games in the Big Ten Tournament, I believe we are dancing once again.

Next. 5 crucial observations from the Illinois basketball win over Ohio State. 5 crucial observations from the Illinois basketball win over Ohio State. dark