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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois’ Big 3-Game Stretch

Rutgers. Iowa. Zona. Who’ve you got?

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: 3-0 (Illinois runs the table)

It feels like at some point this team has to really turn the corner and meet our lofty expectations once again, and this feels like the stretch to prove it.

Already on a three-game winning streak — albeit, not the most impressive one we've ever seen — this would be a chance to a) Jump back into the rankings with a win over Rutgers b) make a statement with wins over Iowa and Arizona heading into Braggin’ Rights/2022.

At some point during this stretch I think it’s fair to expect the return of Andre Curbelo, and if he can calm down compared to what he was against Marquette, Kofi keeps being dominant, and the shooters keep shooting, I still think it’s a dangerous team. They have two losses! One by one point! One a big blown lead to Cincy! The sky is not falling yet, let’s prove it.

Matt Rejc: 2-1 (wins over Rutgers and Iowa)

This Illinois team has persisted through an immensely challenging early part of the season, between Kofi’s suspension, the flu bug that seems to be running throughout the team, and Andre Curbelo’s limited playing time.

Regardless, the Illini have pulled out wins against Kansas State and Notre Dame, and survived the type of mid-major non-conference upset that we’ve seen happen to teams like Kansas and Syracuse this season.

I predict that the Illini will return to the rankings over the next few weeks, but Arizona is just too good this season. Even at home, it’s hard to predict a win against them.

Jeff Horwitz: 1-2 (win over Rutgers)

Iowa isn’t as good without Luka Garza, but neither is Illinois without Ayo. Keegan Murray has stepped it up in Garza’s absence, and his brother Kris has been good too. And then there’s the McCafferys.

As Rejc said, Arizona’s just too good to predict a win. They beat Rio Grande Valley by 54, and we barely got out of there with a win.

Rutgers should be a win, with or without an injured Geo Baker. Jacob Young was so much to that team, and they haven’t replaced him.

On the other hand, the Illini could go 3-0. It all depends on the injury report.

Drew Pastorek: 1-2 (win over Rutgers)

It’s been a disjointed start to the season to say the least – injury, illness, suspension, et. al – but the Illini have mostly navigated through choppy waters. Things start to crank up this week.

No Big Ten game is “easy” but Rutgers has gotten off to a fairly slow start. The Scarlet Knights beat Clemson in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but have also lost to Lafayette & UMass. Rutgers has shot just 26% from three this year and not a single player is averaging double figures. Please don’t lose to them.

As Jeff pointed out, Iowa isn’t not the same without Luka Garza, but the Hawkeyes’ Keegan Murray has been playing at Luka’s level. I just have a feeling that Iowa gets the edge at Carver.

Arizona defeated Wichita State 82-78 on Nov. 19. The Wildcats’ other five victories have been by an average of 39.8 points. They are absolutely cooking right now, and unless something changes significantly within the next week, I don’t think Illinois has the octane to knock them off – even with homecourt advantage.

Quentin Wetzel: 2-1 (wins over Rutgers and Arizona)

I believed in Illinois basketball before the season, and I still do now. At full strength, I remain pretty convinced that Illinois is at least a top 15 team.

The key phrase is hidden in there though: “at full strength.” With Trent Frazier still nursing injuries to an arm and a leg and multiple players still recovering from the flu, I don’t think we’ll see Illinois truly at full strength for at least a few more weeks, even if Andre Curbelo comes back and every player is in uniform. So as much as I would love it to happen, I have a hard time seeing Illinois go undefeated over this stretch.

I think a win over Rutgers and a split with Iowa and Arizona is most likely, so I want to cop out and say “2-1” without saying who the loss will come to. Since I have to though, I’ll stick with home-court advantage: Illinois goes 2-1 with wins over Rutgers and Arizona.