By all accounts, this season has been a giant surprise for Illinois basketball. After a 13-18 record last season and the loss of two of their "best" players, hopes were not high for Illinois. Then they won 13 of their first 14 games and everyone thought this team might be decent.
Now we are certain that this is a good team, that can combine fantastic defense of the past few seasons with a more balanced, efficient offense. In fact, the Illini sit in second place in the Big Ten with 21 wins against 5 losses. This is great for Illinois fans; so great that they may be overlooking something fans are typically very wary of: a lack of respect.
A lot of the teams ahead of the Illini are very good, and it's hard to argue for one over the other, but a couple things stand out when you take a look at the top 25. First, Illinois has one more loss than Missouri, yet the Illini beat the Tigers earlier in the year at a neutral site by 16 points. Mizzou also stacks their resume with losses to Kansas State and Nebraska. Nebraska!
The second problem I have is that Michigan State is ranked so damn far ahead of the Illini. They're number five! Michigan State is a good team, probably the best in the Big Ten, but they aren't top five good if Illinois is out of the top 15. We're talking about a team that lost by 22 to Maryland, lost by...wait for it...35 to North Carolina in Detroit, and lost to Penn State and Northwestern at home. They beat two Big 12 teams that are both ranked below Missouri, and aside from the two terrible losses have been solid in conference play, including a six point win in East Lansing against the Illini.
Illinois' schedule is not as tough as Michigan State's according to RPI numbers, but a close loss to Clemson and a win over Missouri look as good as anything on MSU's out of conference resume.
I'm not saying Illinois is better than Michigan State, and I wouldn't dare put out my own version of the top 25 because somehow I've become a cynical college basketball fan that thinks there are only a few good teams in the country, but all of this information leads me to the conclusion that either Michigan State and Missouri are severely overrated, or because they have exceeded the "experts'" expectations, Illinois has become the victim of a blatant lack of respect.