Illinois basketball path to Big Ten regular season title is not far-fetched

While the Illinois basketball team continues to win, the Purdue Boilermakers are still at the top of the Big Ten. The Illini taking the Big Ten regular season crown is not far-fetched, though.
Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) holds head
Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) holds head / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois basketball has a big game against Maryland on Saturday for multiple reasons.

The most obvious reason this is a big game for the Illini is for record purposes. We want to rack up the wins this season. Another reason is postseason seeding. While a win over the Terrapins won’t boost us up greatly, it will hurt us if we fall on Saturday.

Lastly, and the one reason that could be a stretch, is that Illinois is still in the running for a Big Ten regular season title. This race isn’t over yet, but we have to catch Purdue. A win on Saturday keeps us in the mix for at least a share of the conference crown.

Illinois basketball path to the Big Ten regular season title in 2023-24

Things would have been a lot easier if Illinois beat Purdue the first time around. A single-digit loss keeps us at arm’s length, but there is some ground we can make up in the coming couple of weeks.

A win against Maryland is a must. Falling to the Terrapins would essentially knock us out of the race. Mathematically, we would still be alive, but Purdue would have to go on a terrible losing streak to end the season.

So, a win on Saturday against Maryland would put Illinois at 10-4 in the Big Ten, which is two games back of the Boilermakers who are 12-2.

Illinois then has six games left in the season. We likely have to win all six contests. Illinois’ schedule is at Penn State, home Iowa, home Minnesota, at Wisconsin, home Purdue, and at Iowa. That isn’t the toughest schedule in the world.

I could realistically see Illinois going 6-0 in the final six games, which includes a win over Purdue. But the problem is, that leaves the Illini still one game back of the Boilermakers.

Purdue has to drop another game. They have six contests remaining, and one of those games is a loss to Illinois. Where is the next likely dropped game for the Boilermakers?

The away games for Purdue include Ohio State and Michigan. The Wolverines don’t have a chance. I am throwing them out. Ohio State intrigues me, though. While the Buckeyes have been struggling, they did just fire their head coach. That could light a fire under them. It also might change up some offensive and defensive sets. Ohio State could throw something at Purdue that they haven’t seen this season.

I am keeping an eye on the Ohio State game on Sunday. That is a big one. Purdue’s home games the rest of the way out include Rutgers, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.

Rutgers has rattled off four straight wins, but they are bad on offense. I think Michigan State could be a dangerous team for the Boilermakers. They have nice size in the paint. The same goes for Wisconsin. Getting to Edey and getting him in foul trouble would cause Purdue to struggle.

Illinois needs to take care of business the rest of the way out. That is goal No. 1. Goal No. 2 is to have Purdue lose in one of the other five games. I would keep an eye out this Sunday against Ohio State, March 2 against Michigan State, and March 10 against Wisconsin. A share of the Big Ten crown is not out of the question for the Illini.

Next. 5 huge questions for the Illinois basketball team against Maryland. 5 huge questions for the Illinois basketball team against Maryland. dark