5 Things Illinois Fighting Illini Must Do To Make The 2015 NCAA Tournament

By Matt Johnson

5 Things Illinois Fighting Illini Must Do To Make The 2015 NCAA Tournament

John Groce
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Coach John Groce’s Illinois team has won 17 games and are currently 7-7 in the Big 10. Can the Illini do enough over the next few weeks to return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2013? Here are five things they must do to ensure a berth in the Big Dance.

5. Win their final two home games

Illinois Fighting Illini
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5. Win their final two home games

Illinois Fighting Illini
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The Illini have home dates with Northwestern and Nebraska still remaining on the schedule. Considering the Wildcats and Cornhuskers are rated 118 and 120 in the RPI ratings respectively, a loss to either at Assembly Hall would be devastating to Illinois’ hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament.

4. Win at least one more road game

Illinois Fighting Illini
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4. Win at least one more road game

Illinois Fighting Illini
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Illinois hasn’t exactly been stellar on the road this season, going just 2-6 away from Assembly Hall so far in 2014-15. Still, the Illini have the opportunity to pick up key wins at both Iowa and Purdue before the regular season ends. If the Illini can win even one of those remaining two road games, their hopes of an invitation to the Big Dance will increase dramatically.

3. Shoot the ball better

Illinois Fighting Illini
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3. Shoot the ball better

Illinois Fighting Illini
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The Illini haven’t exactly burned up the nets so far this season. In their recent loss to Michigan State, Illinois went just 15-of-52 from the field (28.8 percent) and a measly 2-of-16 from 3-point range. Overall, Illinois is connecting on just 38.9 percent of their shots in conference play. The Illini must find a way to improve those numbers over the final four games of the regular season.

2. Continue to be stingy on defense

Illinois Fighting Illini
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2. Continue to be stingy on defense

Illinois Fighting Illini
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While Illinois has struggled offensively in 2014-15, it's been rock solid on defense, limiting the opposition to just 63.5 points per game in conference play. If the Illini can continue to play well on the defensive end, they may be able to overcome their deficiencies on offense.

1. Win at least two games at the Big 10 Tournament

United Center
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1. Win at least two games at the Big 10 Tournament

United Center
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With Illinois expected to be seeded anywhere from fifth to ninth for the upcoming Big 10 tourney, it’s imperative that the Illini separate themselves from other conference bubble teams in Chicago. A few wins at the United Center would give Illinois a leg up towards gaining an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

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