Why You Were Meant to Root for Illinois

Illinois' Kofi Cockburn, right, celebrates one of his shots with Illinois' Da'Monte Williams (20) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone/Associated Press

Take a seat on the Illinois Fighting Illini hype train if you want to see a hungry squad led by a masked man bring prestige to a long-overlooked program.


Illinois' Tourney History 

Illinois hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2013. Despite making five trips to the Final Four, most recently the 2005 national final, the school has never hoisted a championship trophy. 2005 was also the last time the Fighting Illini captured a Big Ten title.

That squad, featuring future NBA All-Star Deron Williams, marked Illinois' last legitimate shot of winning it all. Sixteen years later, a freshmen-filled roster has a new pair of stars capable of carving a path to glory.


This Year's Best Players

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Meet your new favorite player. Ayo Dosunmu is one of the nation's most lethal scorers, and he leads the team in assists. Soon enough, he'll become a national sensation, not only for his on-court prowess but also because of a mask that makes it look like he spent the hours before tipoff fighting crime.

After missing time with a broken nose, the junior returned with a black mask that he said made him "feel like a superhero," per WCIA3's Bret Beherns. Perhaps the protective gear will give him additional playmaking powers.

And don't forget about Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot sophomore center from Kingston, Jamaica, is a double-double machine. He and Dosunmu are ushering in a new day at Illinois.


Why They're Going to Win

The masked crusader always emerges victorious, right?

In all seriousness, a championship for the Fighting Illini is hardly a fantasy. They have already made a major statement in March, earning a 23-point win over Michigan without Dosunmu, after his broken nose, before defeating fellow Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State in the star's triumphant return.

The high-powered, battled-tested offense can shoot and score with the best. Having spent years in the shadow of conference foes, Illinois is ready to shine on the grand stage.