2. Illinois (11-3, 2-1)
Illinois had been in a stale period for more than a decade when Brad Underwood was brought aboard in 2017. What’s followed has been a Big Ten title or two and a few more trips to the Big Dance. His team is in fantastic shape this current season, though the recent headlines have been the suspension of star player Terrence Shannon Jr. Regardless, we still have our eyes on the Fighting Illini.
When they’re on their game, Illinois can hang with anyone. They did lose to Marquette and Tennessee, but beat Florida Atlantic and have tormented teams like Missouri, Rutgers, and Northwestern this season. A 30-point victory over those Wildcats came without Shannon, as did a close loss at Purdue this past Friday. If the Fighting Illini can stay that close with the deck stacked against them, then perhaps this team does have potential even if Shannon doesn’t play another minute.
A lot of the credit for their recent play goes to the emergence of Marcus Domask and Quincy Guerrier, who both transferred into the program this past offseason. Many pieces are doing their share and putting Illinois in this enviable position. They’ve already won a few games away from Champaign and their offense has been on a tear across the last month, both with and without Shannon. The momentum could stop at some point but it’s hard to bet against this team with the way they’ve been playing ball.