When the Big Ten schedule came out, Thursday night’s Indiana-Illinois matchup looked like it would be a determining factor in the title race.

Reality turned it into something different, albeit something still interesting — a battle between opponents looking to continue ricocheting in the right direction after surprisingly slow starts to their Big Ten seasons.

The outcome — a 80-65 Indiana road win at State Farm Center — raised a new question.

Are the Illini coming back to earth after a 4-game winning streak, or are the preseason favorite Hoosiers about to launch back into contention after a 1-4 start in league play?

In all likelihood, Hoosiers fans should be more excited than Illini fans are worried. Neither team has much chance of catching Purdue atop the standings, but both still look like they’re moving in the right direction from their troublesome early-January blues.

Indiana’s replacements are figuring it out

Indiana entered last weekend in its worst defensive slump in decades. The Hoosiers allowed 80 points or more in consecutive losses to Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State — the most allowed in a 3-game stretch since 1998.

Senior power forward Race Thompson, who was injured as the Hoosiers squandered a 21-point lead to the Hawkeyes, appeared to be an irreplaceable piece of Indiana’s defensive scheme.

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Jordan Geronimo’s performance against Illinois showed that the Hoosiers should be just fine for the next month or so they’re without Thompson. And it wasn’t just because Geronimo scored a season-high 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field.

Geronimo held his primary defensive assignment, Matthew Mayer, scoreless in 22 minutes. That makes Geronimo a candidate for the best defensive performance by a Big Ten player this season.

Mayer entered Thursday second on the Illini with 11.1 points per game. He was red-hot, scoring 19 in each of Illinois’ past 2 games, including a double-double against Minnesota. Mayer took just 4 shots against Indiana, which tied his season low.

Indiana’s other replacement player, freshman point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, had another strong performance. Hood-Schifino has scored in double figures every game since taking over for the injured Xavier Johnson.

Thompson is expected to be back in February. And though Johnson’s still out “indefinitely,” there is certainly a hope he’ll return by the Big Ten Tournament.

If that happens, Indiana will head into the postseason with the deepest roster in the Big Ten. And what was exposed as a weakness in early January has potential to be this team’s long-term strength.

That is why Indiana fans should be fired up about what lies ahead.

Why Illini fans shouldn’t worry

Illinois doesn’t have to worry about seeing Trayce Jackson-Davis again until Feb. 18. And outside of that rematch, the only other time the Illini will see bigs who can dominate them to this extent is when they close the regular season with Michigan and Purdue.

Dain Dainja, who overwhelmed Michigan State and Minnesota, found himself on the short end of the stick against Jackson-Davis.

The Indiana senior had perhaps the finest game of his career, scoring 35 points on 15 of 19 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 shooting from the free-throw line. Jackson-Davis also grabbed 9 boards and dished out 5 assists. It was a total domination that left no question as to why Jackson-Davis was named the preseason Big Ten player of the year.

Dainja was dominated by the better, more experienced player. Mayer was rendered invisible by the rapidly maturing Geronimo. But Illinois fans should be encouraged that Terrence Shannon Jr. didn’t flinch. Shannon has been the linchpin to Illinois’ turnaround, and nothing about that changed against the Hoosiers.

Shannon led the Illini with 26 points, marking the 3rd time in the past 5 games that he’s scored more than 25. In 3 of Illinois’ prior 5 losses, Shannon was kept under 10 points.

Indiana is finally heating up. But if Shannon keeps rolling, the Illini should do the same in the long-term. There are going to be very few nights where Mayer is an offensive non-factor and Dainja is overpowered in the paint.

Turnarounds still in progress

Neither Indiana nor Illinois is where it thought it would be this year. But the Hoosiers and Illini also aren’t where they appeared to be headed at the beginning of January. And that feels more significant.

We aren’t even to the halfway point of the Big Ten schedule. Purdue appears to be running away with the title. But the race for the other top-4 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament will be a jumbled mess for the rest of the way. And despite starting behind the 8-ball, both Indiana and Illinois look like they’ll factor into that particular competition.