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.
National media have climbed on board the Illinois bandwagon this offseason. BTN’s Andy Katz has leaned in the hardest, putting the Illini at No. 20 in his power rankings. The Athletic’s Seth Davis considers Brad Underwood’s squad a potential top 30 team, and CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein likes their potential, too.
Heck, even ESPN’s Dick Vitale jumped on the bandwagon, saying Illinois fans are in for some “hoops hysteria.” Of course, Dickie V singing the Illini’s praises hasn’t always worked out all that well. It might have happened more than 30 years ago, but that NCAA tournament loss to Austin Peay is a story that won’t long be forgotten.
Even so, expectations are relatively high for Illinois heading into the 2019-20 season, and it’s not just national media. Graham Couch, an AP Top 25 voter and columnist at the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal, sees the Illini as potentially the second best team in the Big Ten behind Michigan State and said as much earlier in the offseason.
Couch is still as high on Illinois now and explained his reasoning in his Wednesday SportsTalk appearance.
No media member is higher on Illinois basketball than Andy Katz.
“Part of it’s I look at the rest of the Big Ten, and I don’t know what else is there to definitely be ahead of them,” he said. “It’s sort of like when you look at Michigan State football this year. You go, ‘Well, they have maybe the most dominant unit in the Big Ten of any unit when you talk about their defense.’ You start there, and it’s a good place to be, so why not pick them as a dark horse?
“Illinois, I feel the same way when you have young talent the way they do that’s returning. When you have a guard (Ayo Dosunmu) that views himself as an NBA guy and who will be motivated. They play a style that trips people up because people don’t see it that often. I know it’s hell for (Michigan State guard) Cassius Winston. He’s had some of his worst games against Illinois over the last couple years.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons. People go, ‘Well, that’s a big jump for them to take,’ but this is college basketball. If you’ve got a little bit of talent and return some guys, you can make that jump. I think Illinois is kind of ready to do it, and this is certainly the year to do it because I do think they’ll lose some guys after this year — at least one guy.”