WCIA — At the halfway point in the Big Ten schedule, Illinois basketball finds itself in third place with a chance at another double bye in the Big Ten Tournament coming up in March.

It did not start out great for the Illini, with three straight losses to Maryland, Penn State, and Northwestern. But since then, the Illini have won six of seven with the only loss coming to Indiana. The biggest difference between now and the start of league play has been a suffocating defense, holding four out of their last five to 66 points and under.

There was a bit of a scheme change, as early in the season the Illini would switch match-ups on defense constantly but have since done away with that. The Illini say the rebound has been a mix of the change and more effort.

“The main thrust was playing hard,” Brad Underwood said. “We can say all we want schematically, it was about playing hard. We went through a lull where we didn’t play very hard. We played hard enough to beat Texas, and then we hit the skids.”

“I think it’s a lot different when you have your assignment for that night,” Coleman Hawkins said. “It got kinda hard switching everything, but when you’re assigned an assignment you have to do your job, you kinda lock in more. I think we’ve been pretty good defensively and I think that’s what’s been winning us games.”

Illinois starts the second half of Big Ten play hosting Nebraska on Tuesday at 6 p.m.