Coming into the 2023-24 campaign, the expectations were high for the women's Illinois basketball team.
Those expectations were high for a reason, though. In years past, the Illini didn’t have expectations because we struggled to win 10 games in a season. After year one of the Shauna Green era in which Illinois won 22 games, fans started to develop expectations.
The 2023-24 campaign hasn’t gone the way many had hoped. A 6-6 start and 0-2 in the Big Ten is not ideal. But it is not like Illinois is losing in ugly fashion. Green said it best when she said that shots just aren’t falling in at times.
Illinois has been within six points in four out of the six losses this season. That doesn’t exactly scream bad team. In fact, I still believe the Illini have a solid unit that can do some damage this season.
Illinois basketball is coming up on a stretch of games that is make or break for the 2023-24 season
The last four games should have Illinois fans optimistic about this team. While we are just 1-3 in this stretch, two of the losses are by one bucket, and the other, at No. 16 Indiana, was a tied game into the fourth quarter.
With Illinois falling on the wrong side of some of these close games, it should give you hope that this season can easily turn around. That turnaround needs to happen in the next five games, though.
Illinois has the easiest stretch of games in Big Ten play coming up. This Sunday, January 7, starts the run with the Illini welcoming in Wisconsin. The Badgers are 7-5 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. This is a team Illinois beat by 16 points last season.
Nebraska (10-3 overall, 2-0 B1G), Northwestern (6-8 overall, 1-2 B1G), Rutgers (6-10 overall, 0-3 B1G), and Maryland (9-4 overall, 1-1 B1G) are the four games that follow.
Illinois split the series against Nebraska last season, winning in Lincoln and dropping the contest in Champaign. We took care of business against both Northwestern and Rutgers in 2022-23, beating the Wildcats twice and the Scarlet Knights three times.
Maryland is going to be a tough test for the Illini. The Terrapins are traditionally a great team, as they managed to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Elite 8 last season. Maryland isn’t ranked right now and they did lose some top talent from last year’s team like Diamond Miller. Despite dropping both contests to the Terrapins last season, this time around, this is a winnable game.
I believe the next five games are going to be the roadmap of what the 2023-24 season will hold. Take care of business against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Rutgers. That is goal No. 1. Goal No. 2, win at least one of the two against Nebraska and Maryland.
If Illinois can win four out of the next five games and get our record to 10-7 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten, we would be on the right path to not only finish strong in the conference but to also make back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. Don’t count us out yet.