Illinois Rankings, Jan. 2

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

Conference play began last week, and it brought plenty of surprises around the state. Despite losing, Northwestern clings to its No. 1 ranking just ahead of surging Illinois State.

1. Northwestern (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 1

After thrashing Penn State in the Big Ten opener behind 31 points from Scottie Lindsey, Northwestern’s offense stalled in a 61-52 loss at Michigan State, ending the Wildcats’ nine-game winning streak.

Still, Northwestern could be favored in each of its next four games: vs. Minnesota, at Nebraska, at Rutgers, vs. Iowa.

2. Illinois State (10-4, 2-0 MVC)

Last week: 3

Illinois State made two statements last week, easing past Evansville and then blowing out Loyola. It’s becoming clear that the Redbirds are Wichita State’s only true challenger in the MVC this year.

3. Illinois (11-4, 1-1 Big Ten)

Last week: 2

After getting blown out at Maryland, Illinois responded with a solid win against Ohio State at home.

4. Loyola (10-5, 0-2 MVC)

Last week: 4

Loyola was closing in on the KenPom top 100 entering conference play, but losses to Drake and Illinois State dropped the Ramblers way down. Even so, they’ll be favored this week against Northern Iowa and Bradley.

5. Northern Illinois (8-5)

Last week: 6

Northern Illinois has won four straight games entering MAC play on Tuesday. However, only two of those victories have been against Division I opponents.

6. Bradley (6-9, 1-1 MVC)

Last week: 9

Bradley defeated Southern Illinois to win its MVC opener for the first time since the 2012-13 season. As expected, the Braves followed with a blowout loss to Wichita State.

7. Southern Illinois (8-7, 1-1 MVC)

Last week: 5

After falling to Bradley, Southern Illinois rebounded with an 83-69 win against Drake in its MVC home opener. The Salukis host Indiana on Wednesday in what could be a crucial game for both teams regarding a top six finish in the MVC.

8. DePaul (7-8, 0-2 Big East)

Last week: 10

DePaul came closer to upsetting No. 1 Villanova on the road than it did to upsetting 7-7 St. John’s at home. Go figure.

9. Eastern Illinois (8-6, 0-1 OVC)

Last week: 7

Eastern Illinois has had some tough luck recently. After falling 88-85 in double overtime to Indiana State, they lost 57-56 to Jacksonville State in their OVC opener.

10. UIC (7-7, 0-1 Horizon)

Last week: 8

UIC played competitively against Horizon League favorite Valparaiso, but poor execution down the stretch led to a 70-59 loss in the conference opener.

11. Western Illinois (5-8, 1-1 Summit)

Last week: 13

Western Illinois did what Indiana could not: win at Fort Wayne.

12. Chicago State (4-12)

Last week: 11

After losing to Valpo, Chicago State hung with MAC title contender Central Michigan in a 90-82 loss. The Cougars held Marcus Keene, the nation’s leading scorer with 31.9 points per game, to just 16 points on 5-of-21 shooting.

13. SIU Edwardsville (5-10, 0-1 OVC)

Last week: 12

The Cougars began conference pay with a 72-66 loss to Tennessee Tech and are staring at an 0-3 start with road games against Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State this week.

Past rankings:

Dec. 26

Dec. 19

Dec. 12

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