From the moment I started writing these, we've been climbing. I put together the first basketball I-N-I in my New Jersey hotel room the morning of the FAU game as a way to say "when you combine all of these numbers, we're actually the 19th-best team in the country right now." We climbed to 17th the next week and kept climbing. As of last week, we were 8th in the I-N-I (the Illiniboard NERDstat Index).
So this is the first dip. And it makes sense since this was our first Quad 3 loss since December of 2019 (Miami, in the B1G/ACC Challenge, at home). If you need a refresher, Quad 3 games are…
- Home games against teams ranked 76-160 in the NET rankings.
- Neutral site games against teams ranked 101-200.
- Road games against teams ranked 136-240.
Honestly, the only game that came close to a Q3 loss since 2019 was the Ohio University game at the beginning of the 2020-21 season (the first games with no crowds) when Jason Preston and that Vanderplas kid went off and nearly beat the #8 Illini (we won 77-75). We did play a close Quad 4 game in there (UTRGV in November 2021), but that was a bit of a fluke because we had three starters out (Trent, Grandison, and Curbelo) and limped to a 94-85 win with Austin Hutcherson playing 27 minutes.
The NET has been around since 2018. And we have four total Quad 3 losses:
- Georgetown 88, Illinois 80 (November 13, 2018)
- Florida Atlantic 73, Illinois 71 (December 29, 2018)
- Miami (FL) 81, Illinois 79 (December 2, 2019)
- Maryland 76, Illinois 67 (January 14, 2024)
So take your pick there. Was this the worst loss of the NET era? I think it's still clearly FAU (that season they were NET #150, so that was ten spots away from being a Quad 4 loss), but we were also NET #109 that year. Yes, even with Ayo and Trent we were #109. This game on Sunday was NET #10 losing to NET #118 (at the time). Those other three games were all unranked (and, for the first two, NET 100+) Illini teams. This was a supposed top-10 team losing to a supposed 100+ team.
Which, of course, brings up the fact that the first three games listed there are all listed by end-of-the-season NET ranking and I'm listing this game on Sunday by at-the-time-of-the-game NET ranking. Maryland jumped 19 spots in the NET by beating us; we fell six. It's possible (although not likely) that they keep winning and push their way into the top-75 which would "only" make this a Quad 2 loss. It's also possible that we settle at #28 by the end of the season and 71 beating 28 on the road makes a lot more sense by the end of the year than #118 going on the road and beating #10.
Either way, we took a hit. So let's look at how far we fell in the I-N-I:
First reaction: fairly close to falling to 4th. As of this moment, taking the average of those four, Illinois is 13th and Michigan State & Wisconsin are tied for 14th. Lose to Michigan on Thursday and we're definitely falling to 4th in the I-N-I next week.
But there's still a clear drop from that group (Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, all in the top-15) to the rest. Iowa continues to climb and Ohio State continues to drop so they kind of form the next tier with Nebraska and Northwestern. And then Maryland has made a move (mostly by beating us) to push to the top of the "best of the rest" list.
(And yes, math people, I realize that saying MSU and Wisconsin are "tied for 14th" isn't really true because I'd have to run all of the rankings for all of the teams to see if some non-B1G team's average slides in there ahead of those two. But running the numbers for all conferences is not something I'm interested in doing every week. So please forgive me for adding up their rankings and dividing by four.)
If this were some kind of bracket forecast, I would say that the top four are all in and then pick two or three of the next four (Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern) to make up the six or seven Big Ten teams getting in. This will not be a 9-bid year. Not even close. Could be five.
Let's do our weekly math and see how this Maryland loss affected our offense and defense rankings. Here are the numbers as of this morning:
KenPom: #11 offense, #32 defense
T-Rank: #12 offense, #38 defense
BPI: #18 offense, #14 defense
EvanMiya: #8 offense, #25 defense
Averages: #12 offense, #27 defense
If we compare that to last week, these two games (Michigan State and Maryland) saw our offense number drop from 10 to 12 and our defense drop from 16 to 27. So yes, here's where we're starting to see the effects of conference play (and that's with two home games). Our defense was up to 11th on this list in late December and now the average is 27th.
And that's probably the most interesting thing about the changes in these numbers these last three weeks. The removal of Terrence Shannon from the lineup has affected the team more on the defensive end than the offensive end. But I don't even want to talk about that because it's still not a topic I want to discuss. (And no, that's not "oh man it's so hard to not see our leading scorer on the court." That's "out of respect for the alleged victim, it's not a topic I want to even discuss until we have more information.")
Back to the offensive/defensive numbers. Each week I pick a KenPom comp from the last few seasons, and this week that comp is, believe it or not, last year's Purdue team. We're 12th/27th right now; last year Purdue was 12th/24th. I don't think this is a team headed for a one-seed. I also don't think this is a team headed for a loss to Fairleigh Dickinson.
Right now, after this Maryland loss, it feels like this is a team headed for maybe a 5-seed? A Q3 loss will look really bad on the resume (not something we had to deal with in 2021, 2022, or 2023). There aren't many opportunities for Q1 wins (at least not like the last three years, especially 2021). So while I still think we'll have a fairly gaudy record, the switch that flipped in my brain after Sunday's loss was that we have a thin lineup, we're going to have more "just didn't have anything in the second half" games, and my dreams of holding on to the 2-seed I was talking about after the Missouri game should probably officially be put to the side.
I think I got ahead of myself. Again.