9. Illinois (9-2)
Though Illinois has lost a couple games this season, the Fighting Illini have looked utterly fantastic at times as well. Losses to Marquette and Tennessee were tough, but the Illini were awesome against Rutgers and Florida Atlantic already in December and continued their recent hot streak this past week.
Back on Sunday, the Illini got back on track with a 74-57 home win over Colgate, playing a very solid defensive game against the Raiders. Four of the five Illinois starters had at least 14 points, including a 16-point, 7-rebound effort from Coleman Hawkins. The Illini then headed to St. Louis for the annual Braggin’ Rights Game against Missouri and won in style, topping the Tigers 97-73. Terrence Shannon Jr. had an All-American type performance with 30 points and 11 rebounds while Quincy Guerrier was electric with 28 points and 8 rebounds himself.
If this team plays to its potential, they could find themselves making a deep run during March Madness. This offense has been consistently better in recent weeks, even in their recent loss to Tennessee, and these Illini are gelling at the right time, with Big Ten play on the horizon. They’ll face Fairleigh Dickinson next weekend as their final test in the nonconference, but certainly look like one of the best teams in the Big Ten.