Illinois was in massive trouble heading into Thursday’s game with No. 1 Indiana.
After climbing their way into the top 15 of the national rankings with wins over Butler, Gonzaga and Ohio State, the Illini simply fell off a cliff. They lost eight of 11 games as they seemingly lost the ability to shoot the three, which is a major problem considering their entire system is more or less built around the three-ball.
They don’t defend all that well.
They don’t really have a low post scoring presence.
They have a bunch of guys that like to chuck up threes, and it had gotten to the point that it seemed like Illinois’ confidence was so low those threes would never start going down again.
And then Indiana came to town, Illinois reeled off a 13-2 run to close the game, Cody Zeller had his “Tyler moment“, and all of a sudden, the Illini are right back into the thick of things with a 74-72 upset win over the Hoosiers.
It should really go without saying just how important this win was for the Illini, and not just because the easiest way to jumpstart team-wide confidence is by coming from behind to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. They visit Minnesota on Saturday. They still have road trips to Michigan and Ohio State, as well. Those aren’t going to be easy games to win. And seeing as Illinois already has losses to Purdue and Northwestern, with the latter coming at home, assuming they would take care of the other five Big Ten teams on their schedule was anything but a guarantee.
And it still isn’t, but beating the team’s you’re supposed to beat is easier to do when you’ve not in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
But let’s assume that they do while losing on the road to Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State. The Illini will be sitting at 8-10, but they’ll have one of the toughest schedules in the country, an RPI that should be somewhere around the low 40’s or high 30’s, and wins over Ohio State, Indiana, Butler and at Gonzaga.
That’s a tournament profile, especially in a season with a weak bubble.
This was a pretty important win.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.