Four wins in four days: Why not?

Four wins in four days: Why not?

CHAMPAIGN — There's precedent for a sub-.500 Illinois basketball team making an upset-filled run through the Big Ten tournament.

Lon Kruger's 1998-99 team did it, knocking off a trio of top 25 teams before losing to Michigan State in the championship. The Illini made a similar run in 2007-08 under Bruce Weber, although they knocked off just a single ranked team before losing to Wisconsin in the title game.

An important distinction in both of those Big Ten tournaments. Illinois played just four games in four days. The expanded, 14-team Big Ten added a fifth day to the tournament — a play-in type game the Illini aren't unfamiliar with.

But if the Big Ten tournament started today, Illinois would avoid that Wednesday game in Chicago. Three straight wins and four victories in five games saw the Illini jump from 13th to ninth in the Big Ten standings and set them up for a rubber game with currently eighth-seeded Minnesota at the United Center in a second-round matchup.

An Illinois win in that game, of course, would mean a showdown with the Big Ten regular season champion. Michigan holds the top spot now by a half game over perhaps the hottest team in the conference in Purdue.

Nobody said four wins in four days was easy.