Illinois fell to No. 11 Arizona, 83-79, in what may have been the premier college basketball matchup on Saturday. Despite the loss, Illini fans should be excited for what is to come the rest of the season. Illinois has a tough Big Ten schedule ahead of them.
Where Does the Big Ten Stand Nationally?
The Big Ten was far and away the best conference in college basketball last season. The conference had more teams dancing than any other in March. This season, the top teams in the Big Ten have been inconsistent early on. Illinois, who was ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP poll, lost back-to-back games to Marquette and Cincinnati.
Michigan, who was ranked in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll, lost by double-digits to Minnesota at home Saturday night and to North Carolina a few weeks ago. No. 1 Purdue just lost to Rutgers, a team Illinois dominated at State Farm Center last week.
On the flip side, Ohio State, a team that was ranked No. 16 in the preseason AP poll, struggled early but managed close wins in upset scares against Akron and Niagara.
Michigan State has been the best team in the Big Ten, sitting atop the conference while also earning non-conference wins over Loyola-Chicago, Connecticut, and Louisville.
It seems like it's going to be another year in which the conference beats up on each other for two months before March. There's no other way I'd rather have it.
What the Loss to Arizona Means
The loss means absolutely nothing for Illinois. It's unlikely, but the loss might help Illinois get back into the top 25 after figuring in the road victory at Iowa.
Alfonso Plummer has been a savior for the Illini offense, shooting 43 percent from the perimeter and averaging over 20 points per game in the last five contests.
Trent Frazier had a career week, surpassing 1,500 points in orange and blue and scoring a season-high 27 points. Kofi Cockburn posted the 33rd double-double of his career.
Nonetheless, Illinois was heavily tested against a strong Arizona team that will probably be ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll this coming week.
The Bright Side
Illini fans can take solace in the team playing strong without Andre Curbelo. There is still no timetable for his return. Illinois' schedule is relatively easy the rest of December. They host St. Francis (PA) before traveling to St. Louis for the annual Braggin' Rights game with Missouri. They finish 2021 hosting Florida A&M. The conference season officially kicks into high gear after the calendar turns.
The Illini will have four games in which Brad Underwood hopes to get Curbelo back and into game shape if he returns before their next conference game against Minnesota on January 2.
What's On Tap Next?
Illinois will have a week to prepare for their next contest against St. Francis. The Illini will be heavily favored. The week creates more time for Curbelo to be available, but only time will tell. The tough Big Ten schedule ahead is right around the corner, but Illini fans rejoice and have faith.