No. 18 Illinois stretched its winning streak to three games, with two of the victories coming over ranked teams, when the Fighting Illini bullied past No. 11 Wisconsin 80-67 on Wednesday. That win didn’t just put Illinois alone atop the Big Ten standings, but also will knock the Badgers from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2 and Kansas will join Auburn, Gonzaga and Baylor on the top line, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm.
“Wisconsin’s loss at Illinois means a drop from the top line of the bracket,” Palm said. “Kansas will replace the Badgers as the fourth No. 1 seed. WIth a fourth loss, Wisconsin will likely fall farther than No. 5 overall, but Thursday’s games could impact that as well.”
Wisconsin’s national player of the year candidate Johnny Davis had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Badgers, though he couldn’t match Illinois’ own All-American in Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn put together a 37-point, 12-rebound double-double, owning the paint for the Illini.
Cockburn dominated from the start, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds as the Illini built a 42-38 edge at halftime. And as Wisconsin clanked 3-pointer after 3-pointer — the Badgers started 1-for-17 from deep and finished 3 for 23 — Illinois slowly wrested control of the game in the second half.
Illinois (16-5, 9-2 Big Ten) isn’t just leading the Big Ten standings; the Illini profile as one of the nation’s scariest teams as they’ve so seldom played at full strength this season. Of Illinois’ five losses, three have come with either Cockburn or Andre Curbelo — the team’s two preseason All-America picks — out of commission. The other two came in either player’s first game back from an extended absence—Cincinnati was Cockburn’s first game back after suspension; Purdue marked Curbelo’s first game after injury.
Wisconsin (17-4, 8-3) had just two Big Ten losses itself this season, at Ohio State and at home against Michigan State. But despite boasting a scoring machine in Davis, the Badgers are an inconsistent shooting squad, ranking 222nd nationally in 3-point field goal percentage even before Wednesday’s brutal effort from deep.
After Wednesday’s win Illinois heads on the road for a tough back-to-back at Indiana and at Purdue. Wisconsin returns home this weekend to host Penn State.