Bottoms up: Taking a measure of the Illini

Bottoms up: Taking a measure of the Illini

Seven games in 21 days is all that remains of Illinois' 2017-18 regular season. Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY examines three different scenarios for the Illini this month:

Glass empty

Here's where the schedule doesn't do the Illini a ton of favors. Thursday's home game against Wisconsin will be the first of three in a seven-day span. A three-day break follows before Illinois finishes with four games in eight days, including matchups against Michigan State and Purdue. That's where "winnable games" on paper can become anything but, and the end of Big Ten play looks an awful lot like the beginning with considerably more losses than wins. Some teams faced this similar run of games early in the Big Ten slate. Illinois gets it late in what could be a disappointing end to a disappointing season.

Glass half full

Illinois has shown flashes of just how good it can be this season. Like the first 10 minutes Sunday at Ohio State. But inconsistency has reigned — see the next 111 / 2 minutes against the Buckeyes — as wins have been few and far between in the new year. That said, there are winnable games remaining on the schedule, in addition to having to face the top two teams in the conference and a road trip to Indiana. Progress would be running off four more wins (Wisconsin, Penn State, Nebraska and Rutgers for example) and maybe, just maybe, avoiding the first day of the Big Ten tournament.

Glass full

Let's call this the "Oklahoma State." The Cowboys won nine of 10 games in a stretch of Big 12 play last season under Brad Underwood — enough to get to 9-9 in conference and in position for an NCAA tournament bid. Should the Illini win out, which would include top-5 victories against Purdue and Michigan State, they would finish 9-9 in the Big Ten. It's the epitome of best-case scenario that would be helped by a win or two in New York City in the Big Ten tournament. Underwood said he considered Illinois an NCAA tournament team before the season started. This is the only way that happens.

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Moonpie wrote on February 07, 2018 at 8:02 am

Oh, it's the schedule. I see. Thanks, Dr. Apologist. I guess other teams don't have tough schedules. The rationalizing is starting to sound ike Trump tweets.