Illini can’t afford loss to Iowa


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With fewer than six weeks until Selection Sunday, February marks the beginning of when “bubble teams” emerge for at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament.

Among these squads is Illinois, which will visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday.

While the Fighting Illini are one of four Big Ten teams tied for second place in the conference with a 6-3 record in Big Ten play, Illinois’ quality of victories is by far the least impressive. All six came against Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State — teams currently in or near the Big Ten cellar.

A road win in Iowa City this week may not boost Illinois’ résumé much. But a loss to the Hawkeyes would really be a crushing blow to the Illini’s NCAA tourney hopes.

“The whole thing comes down to consistency,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “I think we’re a good team. We could be one of the better teams in the league and compete with a lot of teams around the country, but we just aren’t consistent.”

Michigan State in command

As ugly as some of the wins have been, the record doesn’t lie. Right now, the Spartans are 9-0, are ranked fifth nationally, and possess a three-game cushion atop the Big Ten standings.

While the Big Ten is only at the halfway point of the season, Michigan State has an opportunity to maintain a stranglehold on first — far from an easy task, though.

Tonight, the Spartans will visit Wisconsin for a key showdown at the Kohl Center with the 16th-ranked Badgers. From there, they will head to Champaign, Ill., for a game against Illinois that will be showcased by ESPN. When Michigan State eventually returns to East Lansing, a date with No. 8 Purdue awaits at the Breslin Center.

“The weeks get tougher, and I’m not sure there will be a tougher stretch in my career maybe than at Wisconsin, at Illinois on “GameDay,” and then Purdue at home, and it’s a Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday and all 9 p.m. [Eastern] games,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “I’m expecting this to be the roughest stretch that we’ve faced in many a year, and yet looking forward to it.”

Very unhappy times in Happy Valley

Things have turned rotten rather quickly in State College, Pa.

Just a season removed from winning the NIT, Penn State finds itself at the halfway point of its conference slate as the only Big Ten team yet to win a game.

Making matters worse for the Nittany Lions, the lone bright spot all season has been junior Talor Battle, who averages 18.8 points per game.

In fact, Battle is Penn State’s only player averaging double figures in points. The Nittany Lions’ second-leading scorer, junior David Jackson, averages 8.6 points.

Things don’t get easier for Penn State on Wednesday, when it will play at No. 13 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won their last 11 meetings with the Nittany Lions.

“I think the mental part of this thing has been the challenging part, but our kids have stuck together,” Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday.

“We just need to try to make something good happen, and I think we’ll feel a lot better.”

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