Each Saturday, we'll gauge the progress of Brad Underwood in getting his Illini back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013:
Upsetting a second Top 25 team in just 10 days sparked all sorts of good feelings in the Illinois fan base — particularly those that rushed the court Tuesday night at State Farm Center. Consecutive Big Ten wins for the first time season is a good sign, but the Illini need more. It's always about more wins.
TEAM CONFERENCE OVERALL
Michigan 10-2 21-2
Purdue 9-2 16-6
Michigan State 9-3 18-5
Wisconsin 9-3 17-6
Maryland 9-4 18-6
Iowa 7-5 18-5
Minnesota 6-6 16-7
Ohio State 5-6 15-7
Indiana 4-8 13-10
Rutgers 4-8 11-11
Illinois 4-8 8-15
Northwestern 3-8 12-10
Nebraska 3-9 13-10
Penn State 1-11 8-15
An important stretch is coming for both Wisconsin (potential to vault even higher in the standings) and Nebraska (desperate for a win). Beat writer Scott Richey helps you prioritize your watch schedule after he posted an 8-3 record from last week's Big Ten games:
No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 7 Michigan, 11 a.m., FOX
The skinny: Yes, Michigan already lost once this season to Wisconsin. In fact, it snapped a 17-game winning streak for the Wolverines. But that was in Madison. John Beilein's squad still hasn't lost yet in Ann Arbor.
The pick: Michigan, 62-59
Minnesota at No. 9 Michigan State, 1 p.m., ESPN
The skinny: Odds are the Spartans can avoid a repeat performance of their 24 turnovers in Tuesday's loss to Illinois. They could have won that game if they didn't repeatedly throw the ball all over the court.
The pick: Michigan State, 81-70
Rutgers at Illinois, 3 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Rutgers has only won five true road games in two-plus seasons under Steve Pikiell, although that does include wins at Miami and Penn State this season. Still, the Illini have all the momentum in the world right now.
The pick: Illinois, 75-67
Nebraska at No. 15 Purdue, 7:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Rough time for the Cornhuskers to be playing the hottest team in the conference. Nebraska scored just 45 points in Wednesday's loss to Maryland. The 'Huskers will get more in West Lafayette, but not nearly enough.
The pick: Purdue, 81-62
Ohio State at Indiana, Noon, CBS
The skinny: Both the Buckeyes and Hoosiers slid out of the top 25 — and quickly — with a rough start to 2019. Ohio State's gotten back on track, sort of, while Indiana's slide continues despite that Michigan State win.
The pick: Ohio State, 73-70
Northwestern at No. 20 Iowa, 5:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: The Hawkeyes haven't been without their flaws. Defense has been and probably will continue to be an issue for Fran McCaffery's bunch. Good thing Northwestern's offense is one of the worst in the Big Ten.
The pick: Iowa, 75-59
No. 15 Purdue at No. 24 Maryland, 5:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: The winning streak that has catapulted Purdue toward the top of the Big Ten comes to an end in College Park. Maryland's youth has shown in an up-and-down stretch the last few weeks, but the Terps pick up a signature win.
The pick: Maryland, 78-74
No. 9 Michigan State at No. 19 Wisconsin, 6 p.m., ESPN2
The skinny: The Badgers facing Michigan and Michigan State back-to-back is easily their toughest stretch of the season. Going .500 in those matchups isn't so bad and keeps Wisconsin in the Big Ten title hunt.
The pick: Wisconsin, 61-57
No. 7 Michigan at Penn State, 7:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Penn State's not winless in the Big Ten anymore — not after Monday's win at Northwestern — but don't expect wins to start stacking up. Home-court advantage isn't going to mean much against the Wolverines.
The pick: Michigan, 76-63
Rutgers at Northwestern, 6 p.m., BTN
The skinny: A second road Big Ten win for the Scarlet Knights (something that's never happened) is possible against the Wildcats. It's just going to take a big game from Geo Baker or Montez Mathis. Probably both.
The pick: Rutgers, 66-64
Minnesota at Nebraska, 8 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Even the home-court advantage that is Pinnacle Bank Arena hasn't helped Nebraska in its slide. The Cornhuskers have lost four home games as part of their six-game losing streak, and Minnesota has the weapons to make it five.
The pick: Minnesota, 72-66
Illinois at Ohio State, 6 p.m., ESPN/2
The skinny: Checks schedule. No, the Buckeyes didn't give up a home game to play this one in Cleveland. Ohio State won by 10 in Chicago in early December. Illinois' improved, but the Buckeyes are a tough nut at home.
The pick: Ohio State, 75-69
How N-G college basketball writer Scott Richey views the race for top Big Ten honors:
PLAYER, POS. PREV.
Ayo Dosunmu, Guard 2
Trent Frazier, Guard 1
Andres Feliz, Guard 3
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Forward 5
Kipper Nichols, Forward —
Richey's take: Dosunmu's overall performance against Michigan State only strengthens his potential NBA draft résumé. It's becoming a reality.
Big Ten MVP
PLAYER, SCHOOL PREV.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin 2
Carsen Edwards, Purdue 3
Cassius Winston, Michigan St. 1
Zavier Simpson, Michigan 4
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota 5
Richey's take: Happ is a game-by-game triple-double threat, and for a 6-foot-10 forward, his third is always assists, not blocks.
Freshman of the Year
PLAYER, SCHOOL PREV.
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois 3
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan 2
Jalen Smith, Maryland 4
Romeo Langford, Indiana 1
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois —
Richey's take: Smith's had some clunkers, but his 18 points and 11 rebounds to help beat Nebraska on Wednesday was anything but.
Coach of the Year
COACH, SCHOOL PREV.
Matt Painter, Purdue 3
John Beilein, Michigan 2
Tom Izzo, Michigan State 1
Mark Turgeon, Maryland 5
Steve Pikiell, Rutgers 4
Richey's take: Impressive job by Painter to not only replace four starters this season, but also get Boilermakers on track after a 6-5 start.
Michigan State NCAA
Ohio State NIT
Penn State Home
Richey's take: Tim Miles got a one-year contract extension from new Nebraska AD Bill Moos, giving Miles just three more years on his deal. Not exactly a 100 percent vote of confidence, and an easier out for the Huskers when this season ends.