CHAMPAIGN — After six years, the University of Illinois men’s basketball program jumped back into the elite on Monday.
The Illini was ranked No. 24 in the latest Associated Press Top 25. It was the first time since Dec. 1 2014 that the team has made the top teams in the nation.
Illinois currently ranks No. 29 in the KenPom ratings and No. 33 in the NET Rankings, the metric the NCAA Tournament committee uses to decide the NCAA Tournament field.
The Illini last week had one of the program’s best eight-day stretches in quite some time. In a 63-37 home win over Purdue, the Illini held the Boilermakers to their worst-shooting performance (25.0) in the program’s storied history. Illinois then ended a 15-game losing streak to Wisconsin with a 71-70 upset at Kohl Center, Wisconsin’s first loss at home this season and the Badgers’ first home loss to Illinois since 2010. The Illini capped the week with a hard-fought 54-51 win over Rutgers, snapping a six-game win streak for the Scarlet Knights who are off to their program’s best start since 1976.
Illinois hosts the Big Ten’s last-place team, Northwestern (6-9, 1-4 Big Ten), on Saturday. The Illini are off to their best Big Ten start since 2012, have their first ranking since 2015 and are in second place in the conference.
Also, freshman center Kofi Cockburn won his sixth Big Ten Freshman of the Week award for his play last week.
In wins last week at Wisconsin and versus Rutgers, Cockburn averaged 13.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He tied his own single-game Illini freshman record with 17 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Rutgers.