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Illinois takes big leap in AP poll

The Illini keep on moving up.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In its return to the AP poll, Illinois keeps on moving up.

After spending a large chunk of non-conference play outside the top-25, the Illini checked in Monday at their highest ranking since the opening weeks of the season: No. 13.

The new spot comes after another two-win week for Brad Underwood’s squad. It included a thumping of Wisconsin and Indiana, both led by strong second halves and big-time games from All-American (and Player of the Year frontrunner?) Kofi Cockburn.

This week will provide another big test for the Illini, as they look to avenge last month’s double-overtime loss to Purdue. Illinois hits the road for West Lafayette on Tuesday night before returning to Champaign with a chance to secure the season sweep of Northwestern on Sunday.

The Boilermakers are still pacing the Big Ten in the rankings, now up to No. 3. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are all also ranked.

Of course, what really matters is March. In ESPN’s Bracketology on Friday, Joe Lunardi had Illinois taking the Big Ten’s automatic qualifier spot (since they currently lead the conference standigns) and sitting as 4-seed in Midwest Region, which will finish in Chicago. Illinois would open in the Round of 64 against Drake before a meeting with Xavier or North Texas.