CHAMPAIGN — For the first time in nearly a year, the Illinois basketball team found itself among the Top 25 teams in the Associated Press poll, which was released Monday. But while the attention and respect is appreciated, the 23rd-ranked Illini weren’t throwing any celebrations at the Ubben Basketball Complex while preparing for Wednesday’s Big Ten tilt at No. 4 Wisconsin.
“We’re not caught up in all that stuff,” coach John Groce said. “That’s great. That’s a by-product of them playing some good basketball here of late, but we’ve still got along way to go.”
The last time Illinois appeared in the poll was the week of Jan. 14, 2013. The Illini, who were ranked 23rd at the time, lost three days later at home to Northwestern and dropped out of the poll the following week.
With so many newcomers on this year’s roster, including five freshmen off the bench, Groce has taken some time to make sure any outside attention doesn’t affect the daily preparation. In meeting with the veteran players prior to the season, none of the stated goals was to be ranked among the nation’s Top 25 teams.
“They’ve really honored the process. Now they’ve maybe started to get some attention nationally,” Groce said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what we do, we’ve got to do it well and we’ve got to continue to do it better.”
Illinois was one of five teams from the Big Ten ranked in this week’s poll, joining No. 3 Ohio State, Wisconsin, No. 5 Michigan State and No. 20 Iowa. A sixth conference team, Michigan, received votes.