College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Illinois' Trent Frazier (1) makes a 3-point basket over Missouri's Jordan Geist during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in St. Louis.

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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning until practice tips off.

How Illinois basketball measures up nationally is always an interesting talking point. Fan expectations are generally high given the program’s past success. Illini coach Brad Underwood regularly mentions Illinois being ranked as the No. 11 program all time in a ranking released by the Associated Press in 2017.

In reality? It’s the history, not the current state, of the program that drove that ranking, and immediacy matters. The success of the Whiz Kids doesn’t exactly resonate on the recruiting trail. The Flyin’ Illini era was 30 years ago.

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Even Illinois’ run to the 2005 national title game is approaching its 15-year anniversary. The players Illinois is recruiting now were, at best, 3 or 4 years old when Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head, Roger Powell Jr. and James Augustine reaffirmed the Illini’s place among the top programs in the country.

So where does Illinois stack up on the national stage now? Well, there is a rating at KenPom.com that provides an updated context.

All 353 Division I teams were ranked based on data since 1997. Statistical data from the past 23 seasons is calculated along with conference affiliation and recruiting (based on the Recruiting Services Consensus Index) to generate a team’s KenPom program rating.

Illinois checks in at No. 23 thanks mostly in part to the Lon Kruger, Bill Self and early Bruce Weber eras. That’s where the best seasons lie.

From a macro perspective, just Indiana was ranked higher than Illinois in the Associated Press’ all-time program rankings. With the focus turned to a more recent data set per KenPom? Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland, Wisconsin and Indiana leapfrog the Illini.

Underwood’s goal when he was hired prior to the 2017-18 season was to reinvigorate Illinois basketball as a brand. Things could be worse — top 25 status in the KenPom program rating isn’t bad — but there’s work to be done. It won’t help the Illini win more games in and of itself, but perception matters, too. The more games won, the better recruits signed, the higher Illinois can climb that rankings ladder.

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