Illinois basketball remains in top 15 in latest AP Top 25

Despite falling to a below .500 Penn State team, the Illini remain in the top 15 in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

Feb 24, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini guard Niccolo Moretti (11) reacts
Feb 24, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Niccolo Moretti (11) reacts / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It was a wild week for the Illinois basketball program, but we still managed to notch a victory.

Coming into the week, the Illini had won two in a row and five out of the past six contests. The week held two teams in Penn State and Iowa which were both weaker than normal. Despite the Nittany Lions being a player down, Illinois couldn’t manage to close out them out in a 90-89 loss.

While it didn’t look pretty, the Illini came back on Saturday and notched the 20th win of the season over Iowa. The Hawkeyes had plenty of fight, but Illinois was too much to handle, as we cruised to a 95-85 victory.

Falling to Penn State was a Quad 2 loss for the Illini, but this felt worse than that. The Nittany Lions aren’t a good team, and the latest AP Top 25 reflects this fact.

In the updated AP Top 25, Illinois dropped from No. 12 in the nation down to No. 13. This is a bit of a shockingly low drop, as the Illini continue to be in the top 15 for the 11th straight week.

Illinois basketball finishes the 2023-24 regular season with some tough competition on the schedule

Penn State was supposed to be a win, which would have made for four in a row and seven wins in the last eight contests. That didn’t end up being the case, though.

Now Illinois has a four-game stretch to end the season that looks quite tough. The “easiest” game out of the bunch happens this Wednesday when Minnesota comes to Champaign. This is a Quad 3 game, but Minnesota is fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. They are 17-10 overall and 8-8 in the Big Ten. A win over Illinois would be big for their tournament chances, so look for the Golden Gophers to play extra hard this week.

The final three games of the season are against Quad 1 teams. Illinois travels to Wisconsin on Saturday. We then welcome in Purdue on Tuesday next week and finish the season on the road against Iowa two Sundays from now.

To maintain solid NCAA tournament seeding, I believe Illinois needs to take care of business against Minnesota. We then need to win two out of the final three games. I don’t care which games are victories, as long as Illinois can win at least two out of the final three.

If the Illini can accomplish beating Minnesota and then winning two out of the final three, then I believe a top-five seed in the NCAA tournament is a near lock. This gets us an easier road and, hopefully, a trip to the second weekend for the first time since the 2004-05 national championship run.

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