Illinois basketball ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2014

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CHAMPAIGN, IL – JANUARY 11: Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) and Illinois Fighting Illini forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) celebrate after a play during the Big Ten Conference college basketball game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Illinois Fighting Illini on January 11, 2020, at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – The hope for the third year of the Brad Underwood era in Champaign was that the team would take steps to return to the upper echelon of college basketball. It’s a place they haven’t been for much of the time following their national championship game appearance in 2005.

While there have been some bumps along the road and still have a number of wins to get to reach that point, Illinois is slowly making its way up the Big Ten standings in January.

One sign of that progress came on Monday, when the Illini found themselves back in the rankings after a lengthy drought.

With three-straight wins in the Big Ten and possession of second place in the conference at the moment, the Illini climbed into the AP Top 25 on Monday, coming in at No. 24. It’s the first time the team has been ranked since December 1, 2014 when Illinois started the season 7-1 under then head coach John Groce.

This team has gotten to that ranking thanks to a strong stretch of play in the Big Ten after a loss to then No. 14 Michigan State on January 2nd. The Illini crushed Purdue at home 63-37 on January 5th then picked up one of their biggest wins of the season to date at Wisconsin on January 8th.

Led by Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois got the lead late and held on for a 71-70 victory over the Badgers, ending a 15-game losing streak to their Big Ten foe while picking up their first game in Madison since 2010. On Saturday, Illini were able to survive an ugly game against Rutgers to pick up a 54-51 win in Champaign to improve their league record to 4-2 to move into second place in the conference.

Freshman center Kofi Cockburn continued his outstanding play in the two wins this past week and earned his sixth Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor of the season. In the wins over Rutgers and Wisconsin, Coburn averaged 13 points and 11 1/2 rebounds along with 1.5 blocks per contest.

The Illini have a full week off after the Rutgers win as they won’t return to the court till Saturday when they host in-state rival Northwestern at 4 PM at the State Farm Center.

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