If the calendar says October, in my world, it’s time to start talking Illinois Fighting Illini hoops.
Coach Bruce Weber and his Illini are coming off a somewhat disappointing 2010-2011 campaign that saw them finish with a record of 20-14 and 9-9 in the Big Ten. I say that it was somewhat disappointing because, while they did reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, a lot more was expected from a group that returned first-team All-Big Ten guard Demetri McCamey, honorable mention All-Big Ten forward Mike Davis and center Mike Tisdale.
In addition to that, they were adding one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, highlighted by the enigmatic Jereme Richmond, who was near the top of almost everyone’s recruiting list.
The Illini started the season ranked in the Top-15 and everything seemed in place for them to make a run at the Big Ten title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
However, they didn’t quite live up to the hype.
After starting the season 10-1 and looking like the team everyone thought they would be, the Illini inexplicably lost to their sister school, Illinois-Chicago, in their annual game at the United Center.
That game seemed to be the turning point of the season, as the Illini would go 10-12 the rest of the way, including just 9-9 in the Big Ten. They reached the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years before losing to Kansas, but don’t mention that to the Illini Nation—they expected a lot more.
Coming into this season, it seems that expectations have been lowered a bit—not necessarily by Illinois fans, but by the college basketball world.
Illinois lost four seniors, all of whom started at some point last season, and will only have one senior on this year’s roster. In addition, Jereme Richmond decided to leave the program in order to play professionally, which hasn’t turned out well for him to this point. Either way, he's gone and it is easy to see why some may question how much fight the Illini will have in them this year.
Just maybe this is exactly what the Illini need—no expectations.
Predicted to finish somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten by most experts, this version of the Fighting Illini may just fly under the radar and surprise some people.
Here’s a look at how the Illini roster breaks down this year as well as some keys to a successful season.