The sobering answer to how good the Illinois basketball team really is

It was an ugly night for the Illinois basketball program, as we fell to a wounded Penn State team. This begs the question, how good is this Illini team?

Illinois v Penn State
Illinois v Penn State / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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It is the next morning, and I feel like I am in a better head space, but the question keeps popping into my head; is Illinois basketball good?

I realize this sounds kind of crazy considering there are some pundits out there who think the Illini can make a run to the Final 4 this season. I mean, just look at the roster.

Illinois is laced with experience. Terrence Shannon Jr. is a walking bucket. Marcus Domask can score at multiple levels. Quincy Guerrier is an athletic freak. All three players are in the top four in scoring on the team, and all three players are in their fifth year of college basketball.

I didn’t even mention the other leading scorer on the Illinois basketball team, Coleman Hawkins, who is a senior in his fourth year at Illinois. This team has so much experience.

But that doesn’t answer my question. Is the Illinois basketball team good?

Honestly, at this point with five games left in the 2023-24 season, I don’t know. If I had to guess, I would lean more toward no than yes.

Illinois basketball has yet to prove a run in the NCAA tournament can happen

Illinois has made the NCAA tournament the past three seasons. Last year, the team wasn’t great, but we knew they weren’t a very good team. The two years prior, I thought the Illini were a pretty good team, but we only made it to the second round both seasons.

This season, I just don’t know. When I look at the schedule, I can’t tell either.

There was one crowning achievement win this season, and that was against Florida Atlantic, which was No. 11 in the country at the time. That win has been tainted, as the Owls are now 20-6 overall and are currently projected as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and dropping.

The Florida Atlantic win was the second-best victory for the Illini, according to the NET Rankings. The highest NET Ranking Illinois beat this season is Michigan State, which is ranked No. 23 in the NET Rankings. They are projected as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and boast a 17-10 record overall.

So, just laying it out, the two best wins for Illinois this season have come against a projected No. 7 and No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Neither game was officially on the road either, as the Florida Atlantic win was in Madison Square Garden, and the win over the Spartans came in Champaign.

Out of the 19 wins Illinois has this season, only four of those victories came against teams who currently have fewer than 10 losses. Those wins are against Florida Atlantic (20-6), Nebraska, (19-8), Northwestern (18-8), and Colgate (20-8).

Only eight out of the 19 wins for the Illini this season currently rank inside the top 100 in the NET Rankings. We only have three wins against teams ranked inside the top 50 in the NET Rankings as well.

The opportunities to knock off good teams have been there. Illinois fell to Marquette, Tennessee, and Purdue this season. Those were the chances to show that this program was good.

There aren’t excuses for the lack of quality wins either. Besides the six games Terrence Shannon Jr. was suspended by the University of Illinois due to him being charged with rape, which he still awaits his preliminary hearing that will now take place in, I believe, May, this team has been pretty healthy and at full force.

Domask, Guerrier, Ty Rodgers, Justin Harmon, Luke Goode, and Dain Dainja have played in all 26 games. Shannon missed six games with the suspension. Hawkins missed three games at the beginning of the season with injury. That is it. Illinois has been amazingly healthy this season.

So, I come back to my original question. Is the Illinois basketball team good? We have some good moments, and we can tear up bad teams at times. But are we a good team? As I sit here, I can’t say we are a good team. There has been no evidence on the court that Illinois is a good team. Our best wins are against teams that are a loss away from being on the bubble. Depending on how Illinois finishes out the 2023-24 season, we could end up being one of those teams as well.

5 painful observations from the Illinois basketball loss to Penn State. 5 painful observations from the Illinois basketball loss to Penn State. dark. Next