Illini facing brutal stretch

Illini facing brutal stretch

Running the gauntlet

Tonight’s game against Michigan State begins a demanding stretch of games for the Illini, who have lost three straight in Big Ten play after a 2-0 start and a week in the AP poll. Here’s a closer look at the next five games.

16-1, 5-0
7 p.m. Saturday

National rank: 4
What makes them tough: They’ve got two players (Gary Harris, Adreian Payne) who would have been first-round picks in June’s NBA draft and a third, Keith Appling, who Groce said could be the Big Ten’s MVP.

15-3, 2-3
6 p.m. Thursday

National rank: 11
What makes them tough: Like the Illini, the Buckeyes are struggling, losing three straight for the first time in five years. But Thad Matta’s team can defend, and Illinois has lost 7 of 8 in Columbus.

12-5, 2-2
2 p.m. Jan. 26

National rank: —
What makes them tough: The Hoosiers had a shot at the buzzer to beat the Illini in overtime earlier this season at State Farm Center, but they’re always tougher at home, as Tuesday’s win against No. 3 Wisconsin indicated.

vs. IOWA
14-3, 3-1
6:30 p.m. Feb. 1

National rank: 14
What makes them tough: Roy Devyn Marble is playing like an All-Big Ten guard, and Iowa’s only losses have come to No. 6 Villanova, No. 8 Iowa State and No. 3 Wisconsin, a game Iowa led by as many as 11 in Madison.

16-1, 3-1
8 p.m. Feb. 4

National rank: 4
What makes them tough: The Badgers’ 16-0 start was the best in program history, and we’ve already seen them dismantle the Illini this season, winning by 25 in Madison. Bo Ryan’s program has won six straight against Illinois.