2. Illinois Fighting Illini - 17-6 (8-4)
Terrence Shannon Jr. has been back for the last six games and his offense has gotten back on track mostly, including 28 points in the recent game against Michigan State. Yet as a team, Illinois hasn’t looked much better than they were without him before.
They had lost to Northwestern in overtime before, along with close wins versus Indiana and Nebraska, with the Cornhusker game having to go into overtime. But the key game for the Illini was on the road at Michigan State, looking for not only a season sweep but a chance to put the Spartans on the bubble and in danger of missing out on the Big Dance for the first time since last century.
Of course, Coach Tom Izzo and the home team proved to be too much for the Illini, giving them an 88-80 loss. Besides Shannon’s 28, Coleman Hawkins finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. But the defense has become an issue, giving up 84+ points in 3 of the last 4 games.
Thanks to Wisconsin’s slide, Illinois is in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten standings. And while the defense has some improvements to make, they still look to be the biggest threat to the clear No. 1 team in the league. Up next for them is Michigan at home, followed by two road battles at Maryland and Penn State.