Illinois basketball ceiling and floor for the rest of the 2023-24 season

It has been a wild ride for the Illinois basketball team thus far, but with 10 games to go in the 2023-24 season, it is time to take a look at the ceiling and floor of this top-25 program.

Feb 1, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood yells at
Feb 1, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood yells at / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA
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Illinois basketball ceiling

When I look at the Illinois basketball ceiling, I am eyeing a likely scenario where the program finishes the season strong. How high, if Illinois plays well down the stretch, do I think we can get?

The obvious answer would be to run the table. That isn’t realistic, though. While it could happen, the Big Ten can do some funny things, and Illinois has proved we can cough up a win or two by our own doing.

Illinois was projected as the No. 4 seed before the win over Ohio State on Tuesday. We currently sit with a NET Ranking of No. 12 in the country as well. Our 3-4 Quad 1 record is identical to the majority of the top 11 teams too.

The great thing for Illinois at this point is that we have some quality NET Rankings opponents coming up. The Illini have four Quad 1 games remaining, starting with Michigan State on February 10. Illinois then finishes with three straight Quad 1 games, at Wisconsin, Purdue, and at Iowa.

Let’s say Illinois takes care of business against the Quad 3 games, Michigan and Minnesota, at home. That gives Illinois a record of 18-5 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten.

As I type this, Nebraska is still No. 60 in the NET Rankings, but they haven’t updated it since they knocked off Wisconsin on Thursday night. So, they are still a Quad 2 game. Illinois’ Quad 2 games consist of Nebraska, Iowa, at Maryland, and at Penn State.

Getting Nebraska and Iowa at home is nice. While Illinois lost to Maryland earlier this year, I could see the Illini not getting swept by them. And then we should be able to take down the Nittany Lions. Winning all four of the Quad 2 games is very achievable. That would put Illinois’ record at 22-5 overall and 13-3 in the Big Ten.

And then we get to the Quad 1 games. Purdue, at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, and at Iowa. I don’t think the Hawkeyes are very good. I also like the matchup Illinois has against Wisconsin. We should be able to run them out of the gym. That would take our record to 24-5 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten.

Illinois will likely drop at least one game in the final 10 contests. It wouldn’t shock me to see Illinois go into East Lansing and the Spartans beat us. Road Big Ten games are tough, and Michigan State had us on the ropes in Champaign. If we are going to lose a couple of games down the stretch, I would project this to be one of those losses.

Purdue is the second-to-last game of the season. I don’t think it is any surprise that since Zach Edey came to power, Illinois has failed to beat the Boilermakers. Every game ends up being close, but we don’t have an answer for the literal giant in the paint. The second loss down the stretch, if it happens, would likely be to Purdue.

NCAA tournament projection

Laying out the schedule, I think the Illinois basketball ceiling for the rest of the 2023-24 season is 24-7 overall and 15-5 in the Big Ten.

A 15-5 Big Ten record has won the conference regular season title each of the past two years. I think it might be a little difficult for that record to win it this season, but we would squarely be in the mix. A double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament would be a lock.

As far as the NCAA tournament goes, finishing the final 10 games at 8-2 would likely move us up in the projected seeding. Illinois would finish 5-6 in Quad 1 games, 7-0 in Quad 2 games, 7-1 in Quad 3 games, and 5-0 in Quad 4 games.

Illinois currently ranks No. 14 in the AP Top 25. Winning eight out of the last 10 would likely move Illinois ahead of a few teams. I could see us at least jumping No. 13 Creighton, which is No. 15 in the NET Rankings, No. 10 Kentucky, which is No. 25 in the NET Rankings, No. 7 Duke, which is No. 17 in the NET Rankings, and No. 6 Wisconsin, which is No. 11 in the NET Rankings.

If we hop, at least, those four teams, that would put Illinois No. 10 in the AP Top 25. Roughly the top eight get the top two seeds in the NCAA tournament. So, we are looking at one of the best No. 3 seeds.

I would be okay with Illinois entering the postseason with the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. I think that is realistically achievable, and if we play even better, who knows, maybe we can get a top-two seed.

Now let's take a look at the Illinois basketball floor.