Who Said Illinois Couldn't Contend In The Big Ten?

Afrikka BambataaContributor IFebruary 10, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 16:  (L-R) Demetri McCamey #32, Brian Randle #42 and Trent Meacham #1 of the Illinois Fighting Illini look on dejected from the bench late in the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Championship game of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 16, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Wisconsin won 61-48. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

From getting the schedule, to the news about Jordan leaving Illinois, or the news of their Top 10- recruiting class but none of that is as important as a Big Ten conference title. Being overshadowed by Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in the Big Ten it is easy to forget about Illinois.

After two straight upsets over Top 25 opponents, Illinois has tightened the Big Ten race. Illinois has a record of (9-3) which is tied for number one in the conference.

Illinois entered conference play after a tough overtime loss to Gonzaga. That didn’t slow down the Fighting Illini down after winning their first three conference games. Then came the losing streak; Illinois slipped to (3-3) in the Big Ten after three consecutive losses to Michigan State, Northwestern, and Purdue giving up an average of 76.6 points per game as well as 15 turnovers per game.

But that would come to an end. The Fighting Illini currently ride a 5-game win streak in a Big Ten conference surrounded with great teams. Over the course of the win streak they’ve defeated Michigan State and Wisconsin, setting them up for a productive NCAA tournament stance.

The Fighting Illini’s biggest win came just last night at No. 11 Wisconsin. Wisconsin was 51-0 at home against unranked opponents in the Bob Ryan era; now they’re 51-1. After another outstanding performance by Illinois guard Demetri McCamey Illinois has become the team to watch in the Big Ten.

Everyone knows that the when you produce well in February it’ll help you in March. This is a great time for Illinois to get things clicking. Led by junior guard McCamey Illinois future looks to be bright; they play with a chip on their shoulder every night, showing the world that they can beat the Top teams in the nation. McCamey puts the Illini on his back and guides them to victory.

However it’s not only McCamey. This whole Illinois team is playing with the confidence needed to excel in the NCAA. They’re starting to get more creative with Tisdale; sending him away from the basket where he can produce more efficiently. He is more active out the paint where he can knock down the jumper or draw the foul and get to the line where he converts the easy ones.

The X-factor for Illinois this season has been there defensive pressure. There usually a team that can get after it on the defensive side of the ball and they’re getting better at it game after game. The defensive spacing has gotten a lot better and it’s tightening up the inside play of opposing teams. In addition, the perimeter defense adjusted to the inside defensive improvement and played their roles perfectly.

Continuing the toughest stretch of the season, Illinois host Ohio State and Evan Turner at home. The game is scheduled to be played Valentine’s day at 1:00 PM.