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Illinois Basketball: We Are About to Find out How Good This Team Really Is

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 10: Brandon Paul #3 and D.J. Richardson #1 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrate during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Assembly Hall on January 10, 2012 in Champaign, Illinois. The Illini defeated the Buckeyes 79-74 as Paul scored 43 points. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Ryan BothmannSenior Analyst IIMarch 14, 2016

The new AP Poll was released on Monday, and the Illinois Fighting Illini are now ranked No. 13 in the country.

We see this a lot in collegiate sports, though. Teams get off to hot starts, climb the polls, and then die off and are forgotten. It does not seem like this will be the fate for Illinois, though.

College basketball fans have witnessed the three-point barrage that the Illini are becoming famous for in their games. Fans are waiting for the time when this slows down and others are wondering if it will ever slow down.

Illinois leads the country in three pointers made per game with 11.3, they rank fourth in the country at three-pointers attempted per game at 27 and they rank 12th in three point percentage at just under 42 percent.

The hot shooting has replicated that of an NBA team. If you leave any one of its players with an open look on the perimeter it is likely to be made.

Senior guard D.J. Richardson hit a buzzer beater three-point shot in overtime to beat Hawaii during Illinois' third game of the season, and senior forward Tyler Griffey hit a clutch three-point shot in the closing seconds of a game against Gardner-Webb to help Illinois stave off a massive upset.

The most lethal player, though, has been senior guard Brandon Paul. Paul is leading Illinois in scoring with 18.3 points per game and he has a shooting percentage of 48 percent. His three-point shooting percentage is also very good, at 41.5 percent.

Paul won the Most Outstanding Player Award at the Maui Invitational, and so far this year has played like a Player of the Year candidate. Whether he will continue at that pace remains to be seen, but for now Paul has been unbelievable for the Illini.

So the biggest question that Illinois is facing now: Can you keep it up?

Every fan can remember the 2004-05 Illinois team. The Illini went 37-2 that season and fell just short in the National Championship Game to North Carolina. When it appeared down and out against Arizona in the Elite Eight that season, Illinois rallied back because of tough defense and three-point shooting.

That team that went 37-2 had unbelievable guard play, big guys who could shoot the ball, and they played tough defense.

Does it remind you of any other Illinois team?

Now this does not mean we should expect Illinois to nearly go undefeated in the regular season and nearly win a National Championship, but it does not mean we should not expect it either.

This Illinois team has already shown us that it is very good. With games against Gonzaga and Missouri coming up, we are about to find out how good it really is.

After Saturday night's game against Gonzaga, the country might come to the realization that the Illini are an extremely dangerous team.

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