Do you hear that?— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 9, 2024
MARCH is coming.
It’s almost that time of year, folks.
The first conference tournament begins in three weeks.
Selection Sunday is five weeks away.
The first round of the NCAA tournament tips off in six weeks.
Between now and then, Illinois still has nine regular season games to play, with an opportunity to play a few postseason games in the Big Ten Tournament.
March is coming, as Jon Rothstein says. So let’s take a look at the current NCAA tournament resume of your Illinois Fighting Illini.
I’ll start with the basics. Illinois is 17-5 and 8-3 in the Big Ten. A great record for a P6 team. I love that this is the new norm for Illinois basketball (in my lifetime at least), so I find it insane that certain Illinois fans aren't satisfied with the level the program is currently at.
Show this record to any Illinois fan when Brad Underwood took over in 2017 and I assure you they’d be jumping for joy. Yet today there seems to be never-ending complaints about Illinois, Underwood, and everything else under the sun.
Tiny rant over. Back to the resume.
Diving into the record a little deeper provides some more clarity on where Illinois really stands. Illinois has defended home court well, going 12-2 at the State Farm Center with four games remaining. They’re also 3-3 on the road and 2-0 at neutral sites. In Big Ten play, Illinois is 5-1 at home and 3-2 on the road.
Now for some stats the NCAA tournament committee puts an emphasis on. How is Illinois’ record in the four quadrants?
These numbers change daily, but as of Feb. 9, Illinois is 3-4 in Quad 1, 4-0 in Quad 2, 5-1 in Quad 3, and 5-0 in Quad 4.
If you're not familiar with the quadrants system, it’s a system that categorizes the quality of the opponents you play. Illinois is 3-4 vs. the highest tier of opponents in the country and 5-0 against opponents in the lowest tier.
Inside of Quad 1 itself, Illinois is 1-3 in Quad 1A, the top tier inside of Quad 1. They dropped games to Purdue, Tennessee, and Marquette, which they obviously won't get penalized for. However, winning one of those games would've been massive for the resume. Luckily, Illinois upset Florida Atlantic on a neutral court, which is currently a Quad 1A win.
Illinois is 2-1 in Quad 1B with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State, and an overtime loss to Northwestern. The Illini are undefeated in Quad 2, with two home and two road wins in conference play. The only real blemish to Illinois’ resume in terms of game results comes in Quad 3, where the home loss to Maryland currently sits. If Maryland moves up just a couple of spots in the NET rankings, this defeat will become a Quad 2 loss.
Besides the Maryland loss, the orange and blue are 10-0 in Quads 3 and 4, as they should be.
With three Quad 1 wins, Illinois is sitting pretty. Only 21 teams in the country have more than three Quad 1 wins, and 18 of those 21 teams have had more Quad 1 opportunities than Illinois thus far. Illinois has four Quad 1 opportunities left (three Quad 1A) in the regular season as of now, with one being its trip to East Lansing on Saturday.
The other five games on the schedule project to be three Quad 2 games and two Quad 3 games. Quad 2 wins really help bolster your resume, while Quad 3 losses severely tarnish your resume.
That was a lot of rambling about quads, which I’m sure most people are sick of hearing about by now. To summarize, Illinois looks great right now. They have one bad loss, but few very solid wins. The only thing they're missing is a GREAT win. Beating Purdue at home or Wisconsin on the road would give Illinois the win they need if they want to be a top seed in the Big Dance.
One last thing: Winning at Michigan State would be a really good win, but I still don't think it would be a “great” win. The metrics love Michigan State this year, but they haven’t proven much on the court. Also, FAU is struggling and the December win over them looks less impressive by the day. Beating Purdue and/or Wisconsin is crucial.
Let’s move on to the team’s metrics now. Some people still hate metrics, analytics, and everything like it. Unfortunately for that group, the NCAA Tournament committee is a big fan of metrics.
Illinois looks great by the metrics’ standards right now. It’s a big part of why they're projected to be seeded so highly, even without a sure-fire marquee win.
- NET: 13
- KenPom: 9
- BPI: 12
- SOR: 16
Pair those top-16 metrics with a high-quality resume, and there's no surprise Illinois is a consensus three or four seed.
The average NET rating of every opponent Illinois has beat is 141, while the average NET rating of every team Illinois has lost to is 31. These are both very good.
The team’s NET strength of schedule sits at 56th, while its non-conference SOS is 135th. Not bad.
All of these metrics are evaluated by the committee, some more than others of course.
The big picture is that Illinois is elite in most of the important metrics and still very good in the other ones.
The Bracket Matrix lists the team’s average seed at 3.85, slotting them at No. 13 in the seed list. The Bracket Matrix website gathers dozens of bracketologists’ daily projections and compiles them into one average seed list.
I released my own seed list on X a few days ago, and I actually had Illinois at No. 13 overall as well. (This means nothing. It was my first time ever trying to make my own bracketology. It was really fun.)
All that being said, Illinois looks pretty good on the court — and the Illini have all season. Their resume is solid. Their metrics are great.
I think they’re capable of going on a run in March no matter what seed they are. We’ll just have to wait and see if that's the case.