Illinois basketball floor
It is all sunshine and rainbows with the previous slide. I believe Illinois basketball could achieve the heights that I mentioned in the ceiling slide, but there is always a chance the Illini struggle down the stretch and things don’t go to plan.
Winning on the road is never an easy feat in the Big Ten, and let’s be honest, the Illini have some tough road games in the final 10 contests of the season.
This worst-case scenario is going to be realistic. I am not just going to say Illinois loses all games and we fall completely apart.
Illinois has two home games against Quad 3 teams in Michigan and Minnesota. I am still going to mark those games down as victories. That moves us to 18-5 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten.
Our other three home games coming down the stretch are against Quad 2 teams in Nebraska and Iowa, and a Quad 1 game against Purdue. The Cornhuskers did just knock off Wisconsin on Thursday night. This isn’t an easy game by any means, but Illinois is at home and we have had tremendous success against the Cornhuskers, winning the last seven matchups. I will still mark that as a win.
Iowa has really struggled this season too. This isn’t your father’s Hawkeyes program. They are only 12-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten. Iowa has also dropped three out of the past four contests. Since Iowa isn’t much to write home about, I think the Illini take this game in Champaign as well.
Purdue is then the final home game on the schedule. The Boilermakers have had our number since Zach Edey joined the program. I think Illinois, once again, keeps the game close, but since Purdue is so good and Edey is so big, Purdue takes this game and likely clinches the Big Ten regular season crown all at the same time.
So, after the home games, Illinois’ record in the floor scenario is 20-6 overall and 11-4 in the Big Ten. Let’s move on to the road games.
Illinois has some tough road contests in the final 10 games of the season. The first one is against Michigan State, which is a Quad 1 game, as they are No. 23 in the NET Rankings. The Spartans took Illinois down to the wire in Champaign, so let’s say they take us down in East Lansing.
It wouldn’t be unrealistic to think Maryland takes care of business once again against Illinois. They beat us in Champaign on January 14, so going on the road against this Quad 2 team won’t be easier. The Terrapins aren’t a great team by any means, but winning on the road in the Big Ten is incredibly tough. Let’s say Maryland sweeps the season series.
Penn State isn’t a good program this season. While Illinois has struggled against the Nittany Lions in the past, I think we come out of the gates strong after falling to the Terrapins in the game before. Penn State fights tough but Illinois still manages to notch a road victory.
The final two road games of this scenario are against Wisconsin and Iowa. While I like the matchup against the Badgers, again, winning on the road is never easy in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has a good team this season, and they can beat anyone. I could see the Badgers being too much to handle and Illinois dropping another game on the road.
Finally, we get to Iowa again. Illinois takes care of business at home against the Hawkeyes, but a road matchup is going to be tougher. After dropping back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Purdue, Illinois would need a win over Iowa to not lose three in a row to finish the season. I think the Illini manage to pull off the road win against the Hawkeyes. Again, Iowa is not very good this season.
NCAA tournament projection
With Illinois dropping three out of the final five games on the road, I think the floor for the Illini ends up being 22-9 overall and 13-7 in the Big Ten.
Honestly, that isn’t a terrible floor for the Orange and Blue. While a 6-4 record down the stretch likely wouldn’t allow us to maintain a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, it would still get as an okay seed.
I imagine a record of 13-7 in the Big Ten still maintains a double-bye for the Big Ten Tournament. The No. 5 seed currently sits at 6-5 in the conference, so I see 13-7 finishing in the top four without a doubt.
Looking at the NCAA tournament, this is where things would get a little stickier. Illinois would take a bit of a tumble in the AP Top 25 if we finished 22-9 overall. I believe we would likely be either at the end of the top 25 or receiving votes to be in the top 25.
A borderline top-25 program is usually looking at a No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. A No. 6 seed would obviously be better, as they wouldn’t have a No. 2 seed waiting for them in the second round.
At the end of the day, though, I think having a 22-9 record overall and 13-7 in the Big Ten as the worst-case scenario isn’t a bad position to be in for the Illini. Do I think this will happen? No, not at all. I believe we are much more likely to have the ceiling happen than the floor. Illinois is a good team, and the last 10 games of the season will determine a lot of what happens in the future.