Illinois a No. 9 seed in CBT's projected bracket

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Illinois a No. 9 seed in CBT's projected bracket

John Groce's Illinois squad has had a rough going in January, falling to 1-4 in conference before rebounding Tuesday with a 71-51 win over Nebraska. The recent stretch -- which has included losses in five of eight games -- has knocked the Illini out of the AP Top 25, and NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk recently bumped Groce's all the way down to a nine-seed in their most recent projected bracket.
They are one of eight Big Ten teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament by CBT's Dave Ommen, joining Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa in the bracket.
The current bracket has the Illini squaring off against No. 8 Georgetown in the West region, with a date against No. 1 Arizona (or No. 16 Northeastern, the projected winner of the Colonial Conference) awaiting in the third round.
Michigan is the Big Ten's lone No. 1 seed in the projected bracket, while two-seeded Indiana, three-seeded Minnesota and four-seeded Michigan State round out the top 16 spots.
Fifth-seeded Ohio State, seventh-seeded Wisconsin and eleventh-seeded Iowa round out the eight bids, which are the most of any league in the projected bracket.
Nothing will get easier for Groce and the Illini, who begin a five-game stretch Sunday that includes Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. Four of those five teams are ranked in the top 13, and the fifth -- Wisconsin -- is currently ranked 27th after knocking off then-No. 2 Indiana last week.

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

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USA TODAY

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

CSN will have two quality college basketball matchups on Saturday as two Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge games will be featured live.

Bradley (4-3) has Nevada (6-2) in town for a 7 p.m. game Saturday on CSN while Illinois State (3-2) will host New Mexico (5-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday on CSN+.

The Braves have alternated wins and losses all season as they hope to build momentum off of a road win over Eastern Illinois.

Freshman guard Darrell Brown paces Bradley at 15.3 points per game on 48 percent three-point shooting while junior guard JoJo McGlaston is putting up 12.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

Nevada enters this one winning four of their last five games as senior guard Marcus Marshall is averaging 20.0 points and 3.9 assists per game. Sophomore forward Cameron Oliver has been generating some pro buzz as he's averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

In the second contest, Illinois State is hoping for a key non-conference win against a quality opponent. Senior forward Deontae Hawkins is doing some solid damage as he's averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while junior forward MiKyle McIntosh is at 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.

Proviso East product Paris Lee is also having a good year at guard for Illinois State.

New Mexico is led by a former area product as Homewood-Flossmoor graduate Tim Williams is averaging 19.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Lobos. Junior guard Elijah Brown, the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown, is also playing well for New Mexico as he's putting up 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

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USA TODAY

Preview: Northern Iowa takes on George Mason tonight on CSN+

Northern Iowa looks to snap a two-game losing streak as they host George Mason tonight. You can catch this game live on CSN+ at 7 p.m.

The Panthers (3-2) have lost both games to Xavier as Northern Iowa matched up with the top-25 team for the title in the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando before losing to them on the road less than a week later.

Northern Iowa does own some solid wins over Oklahoma and Arizona State as they're led by senior Jeremy Morgan, who is averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game -- which all lead the team. 

Junior forward Klint Carlson has also been strong for the Panthers as he's put up 12.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.

George Mason (3-2) has won three consecutive games -- with two of those wins coming by four points or less. The Patriots haven't played anyone as good as Northern Iowa yet as they beat Kent State, Bradley and James Madison.