Illini crack top 25, Hawkeyes move up despite loss

Illini crack top 25, Hawkeyes move up despite loss
January 6, 2014, 1:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

For the first time this season, the Illini have a number in front of their name.

Illinois entered the AP top 25 rankings for the first time this season, debuting at No. 23 when the latest poll was released Monday. They become the fifth Big Ten team in the top 25, joining Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, who remain Nos. 3, 4 and 5, as well as Iowa, who despite a Sunday-night loss moved up to No. 20.

John Groce's Illini are playing some great basketball of late, piling up the meaningful wins after failing to close out what could have been some statement victories early in the season. But since a Braggin' Rights win over rival Missouri, things have been going the Illini's way. They opened up Big Ten play last week with a pair of wins over Indiana and Penn State, both in Champaign.

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Perhaps the team's biggest test of the year, though, comes Wednesday, when the Illini travel to Madison to take on the fourth-ranked Badgers. It'll be the first in a tough stretch that sees the Illini play the conference's three big dogs over the course of their next five games.

Elsewhere throughout the Big Ten, Iowa jumped up a couple of spots despite losing to Wisconsin on Sunday. It was a closely contested game, but the higher-ranked Badgers came out on top. But thanks to a few teams ahead of them falling out of the poll completely, the Hawkeyes moved up following what the tournament selectors would call a "quality loss." Two of Iowa's three losses have come on the road to undefeated teams, with the other coming against No. 9 Iowa State.

Tuesday night features the Big Ten's biggest showdown to date, when Ohio State and Michigan State clash in East Lansing.

Also receiving votes in this week's poll was Michigan, who started Big Ten play 2-0 with wins over Minnesota and Northwestern.