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Get Ready for the Illinois Basketball March Roller Coaster



Mar 10, 2024; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) goes to the basket as Iowa Hawkeyes guard Josh Dix (4) and forward Ladji Dembele (13) defend during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Get Ready for the Illinois Basketball March Roller Coaster

Illinois basketball rarely has uneventful seasons anymore. Despite losing Terrence Shannon Jr. for a month, the Illini were able to secure second place in the conference by the last game of the season. While the game was technically meaningless, Illinois capped their regular season with an up-and-down 73-61 win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

A lot of noise has been made about Illinois basketball’s defense in the last month. Illinois held the Hawkeyes to their lowest point total of the Big Ten season, and outside of Payton Sandfort clamped down on all of Iowa’s weapons. Iowa shot just 35% from the field and 33% from three. Some of that was shooting variance, something that has swung the other way on the Illini recently.  Regardless, Illinois Basketball is just too volatile during a forty-minute game. They are prone to so many defensive lapses, turnovers, and mental mistakes and that will certainly come back to haunt them at some point in March. Fans just have to hope that it is not an early bounce.

1. Bounce Back

Terrence Shannon Jr. had a season-low 11 points against Purdue on Tuesday. He made sure that didn’t continue against the Hawkeyes, going for a much more usual 25 points, with three rebounds and two assists to go with it. Despite Iowa doing their best to keep him penned in and on the perimeter, Shannon Jr. proved to still be too much. He got out in transition and was able to bull Iowa’s smaller and slower defenders on his way to 7-11 from inside the arc. With everything from here out being single elimination, the Illini need this Shannon Jr. as much as possible, and for the guy against Purdue to be left behind.

2. Grind Time

Illinois basketball has two games left guaranteed. They will await their opponent in the Big Ten Tournament, a double-bye already secured. Nebraska finished third in the conference, meaning the Illini’s overtime classic against the Huskers earlier this year could get a redux. There are mixed opinions about the importance and cost of winning the Big Ten Tournament, especially after the 2021 Illini took home the trophy before bowing out of the Big Dance early. Whatever happens next weekend, Illinois’ old core has to realize their time is almost up. March is all about the abruptness of the end. Illinois Basketball cannot afford an off night for the rest of their season.

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Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.