Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket

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Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket

With more than two months to play in the college basketball season, plenty will change between now and Selection Sunday. But that won't stop NCAA Tournament projections from coming fast and furious now that conference season is underway for the 348 Division-I schools vying for a berth in March Madness.
NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk released its first mock bracket this morning, and Illinois, one of the early surprises of the non-conference season in all of college basketball, was slotted as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest region, taking on No. 13 Middle Tennessee State.
The Illini (14-2, 1-1) bolted out to a fast start in Maui, defeating Butler 78-61 to win the Maui Invitational in November, and haven't looked back. With wins at No. 9 Gonzaga, the aforementioned No. 14 Bulldogs and, most recently, then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini came in ranked No. 12 in the country in the NCAA's first release of its RPI standings.
That win over the Buckeyes last week salvaged the start to the Big Ten season for the Illini, who lost to unranked Purdue on the road, 68-61.
The Boilermakers (7-7, 1-1) were not listed in CBT's mock bracket, but six other Big Ten schools were: Indiana (No. 1 seed), Michigan (1), Minnesota (2), Michigan State (4), Ohio State (5) and Wisconsin (First Four game in Dayton).
The Big Ten, which touts an NCAA-best six teams in the top 25, is also the only conference with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. Teams assuredly will move up and down as the season goes on, but the top six Big Ten teams (Wisconsin not included) are almost locks to make the NCAA Tournament.
The at-large field is weak this year, which means Northwestern (9-6, 0-2) could still contend for its first ever berth. With two games left against Ohio State and Illinois, and one game remaining against Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State, there's still room for big wins to boost the Wildcats' RPI (currently at 101).
NOTE Illinois State's rough 0-3 start to Missouri Valley play kept the Redbirds out of the projected bracket. Three teams -- Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State -- made the first round of cuts.

Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

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Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

The Missouri Valley Conference returns to CSN with live college hoops action on Wednesday night.

Looking to make a push for the NCAA tournament, Illinois State hosts Southern Illinois at 6 p.m. live on CSN. Then at 7 p.m. on CSN+, Loyola will host Drake in another Valley contest.

The Redbirds (23-5, 15-1) have won four straight games as they are co-leaders of the conference with Wichita State. Senior Deontae Hawkins leads Illinois State in scoring at 14.6 points per game.

Southern Illinois (15-14, 8-8) won on the road at Indiana State to snap a three-game losing streak as they're hoping for a better result after losing to Illinois State at home by seven earlier this season. Senior point guard Mike Rodriguez leads the Salukis in points and assists at 13.0 points and 4.1 assists per game.

In the second game, Loyola is trying to make a move up the conference standings as they host Drake.

The Ramblers (17-12, 7-9) lost to the Bulldogs on the road earlier this season as they enter this one having lost five of six games. Loyola is led by senior Milton Doyle as he leads the Ramblers in points and assists at 15.6 points and 4.3 assists per contest. 

Drake (7-21, 5-11) has lost seven straight games but they did get the best of the Ramblers in that 102-98 thriller earlier this season. The Bulldogs do have a talented junior in Reed Timmer as he's putting up 15.6 points per game.

Both of these games are important for Missouri Valley Conference tournament seeding purposes as Arch Madness begins on Thursday, March 2.

You can catch Thursday and Friday's MVC Tournament action live on CSN on March 2 and March 3.

Tuesday on CSN+: UIC hosts Green Bay

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Tuesday on CSN+: UIC hosts Green Bay

College hoops returns to CSN on Tuesday with some local action as UIC hosts Green Bay. You can watch this Horizon League matchup live on CSN+ at 7 p.m.

The Flames (14-14, 7-8) are coming off of a loss to Oakland as they try to make one more push up the conference standings. Junior big man Tai Odiase leads UIC at 11.3 points per game as the former Homewood-Flossmoor product is also a solid rim protector.

Green Bay (16-11, 10-5) is still fighting for one of the conference's top spots as they're coming off of a win over Milwaukee. The Phoenix already own a four-point win over UIC this season at home in a close game.

Senior guard Charles Cooper is averaging 13.0 points per game as he's been one of the better guards in the conference this season.