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Illinois moves up to No. 18 in AP poll

The Illini are gaining some respect.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

A pair of thrilling wins last week was enough for Illinois to move up in this week’s AP Top 25.

The Illini checked in Monday morning at No. 18, up 6 spots from last week’s ranking of No. 24.

It was a memorable week as lengthy scoring droughts nearly cost Illinois a ranked win against Michigan State and what would have been a disappointing loss at Northwestern.

But now halfway through Big Ten play sitting at 8-2 and atop the standings, the Illini are not the team that was having to claw its way back into the rankings earlier this month.

Speaking of the conference standings, the Illini have another showdown with a top-15 team coming up, when the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers visit Champaign on Wednesday with sole possession of first place in the Big Ten on the line.

Purdue is still pacing conference teams in the rankings, sitting at No. 4 after sneaking past No. 16 Ohio State on Sunday. Michigan State dropped down to No. 13 after losing to the Illini, despite taking care of Michigan over the weekend.

Looking ahead to March, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi on Friday had Illinois down as a 5-seed and taking on Rick Pitino and Iona in the Round of 64. Kansas is the top-seed in Illinois’ East Region.