Illinois will get a chance to take a major step forward tonight. For the first time this season, the Illini are rated in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and the last five rated teams to play Wisconsin at the Kohl Center have left with losses.
“We have talked a lot about that kind of thing, we are not going to get caught up in all that stuff,’’ Groce said. “It’s great to be rated, it’s a byproduct of them playing some good basketball here of late.
“We still have a long ways to go. We have said the Big Ten Conference is an 18-round boxing match and we’ve done only two rounds, so far.’’
Groce added that no players had being ranked as one of their goals for this season.
“We want to be that team that is consistently improving,’’ he said.
Ironically, Illinois is tied with Purdue for the most wins against Ryan-coached teams at the Kohl Center. Both the Illini and the Boilermakers have three victories in Madison. Illinois was the first league school to beat Ryan in Madison with a 75-65 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 25, 2005 and the Illini also won games there in 2006 and 2010. Bertrand is the only player on this year’s roster that was a part of that 2010 Illinois team.
After tonight’s game in Madison, the Illini will play their second straight road game on Sunday with a 6:30 p.m. contest in Evanston against the Northwestern Wildcats and their first-year head coach Chris Collins.
Site -- Kohl Center When -- 8 p.m. Records -- Illinois 13-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten; Wisconsin 15-0 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten. Rankings -- The Illini are No. 23 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll; Wisconsin is No. 4. Television -- Big Ten Network Radio -- Fighting Illini Sports Network with Brian Barnhart and Jerry Hester. Local stations include WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1. Previous results -- Illinois leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 110-79, but Wisconsin has won the last five including a pair of wins a year ago. The Badgers defeated the Illini 74-51 in Madison on Jan. 12, 2013; and Wisconsin beat Illinois 74-68 in Champaign on Feb. 3, 2013. Last games -- The Illini defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-55 on Saturday; while the Badgers beat the Iowa Hawkeyes 75-71 on Sunday. Up next -- Illinois is back on the road with a contest on Sunday in Evanston against the Northwestern Wildcats; while Wisconsin is idle until traveling to Bloomington, Ind., to play the Indiana Hoosiers next Tuesday. Starting lineups -- Illinois: G Tracy Abrams, 6-2, jr.; G Joseph Bertrand, 6-6, sr.; G Rayvonte Rice, 6-4, jr.; F Jon Ekey, 6-7, grad; C Nnanna Egwu, 6-11, jr. Wisconsin: G Ben Brust, 6-1, sr.; G Josh Gasser, 6-3, jr.; G Traevon Jackson, 6-2, jr.; F Sam Dekker, 6-7, so.; C Frank Kaminsky, 7-0, jr. STATISTICAL LEADERS Scoring -- Illinois: Rice 18.7; Abrams 12.9, Bertrand 11.0; Wisconsin: Dekker 14.1, Kaminsky 13.5, Brust 12.8, Jackson 10.5. Rebounding -- Ekey 5.9, Rice 5.8, Bertrand 5.5, Egwu 5.3; Wisconsin: Dekker 6.3, Kaminsky 5.9, Brust 5.0 Assists -- Illinois: Abrams 3.3, Jaylon Tate 2.6, Rice 1.9; Wisconsin: Jackson 4.3; Gasser 1.8, Brust 1.6.