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.
Another Andy Katz Power 36 poll, another opportunity to move Illinois up the list it seems. The BTN contributor and NCAA.com correspondent has been driving the national media bandwagon when it comes to Illini men’s basketball this offseason. His updated power poll that dropped Wednesday — 200 days from Selection Sunday in case your were wondering — bumped Illinois up one spot to No. 19.
Katz’s ranking has the Illini as the fifth best team in the Big Ten heading into the 2019-20 season behind Michigan State (No. 1), Maryland (No. 5), Purdue (No. 16) and Ohio State (No. 18). An apparent factor in another move up Katz’s ranking for Brad Underwood’s crew? Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu putting up 24 points per game during the team’s trip to Italy.
It was a day to consider the Big Ten rankings — and Illinois’ place in them — given the email I got late Tuesday night from Ohio State beat writer Adam Jardy. The Columbus Dispatch reporter and The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn are once again teaming up to compile ballots from 28 Big Ten beat writers for a preseason poll since the conference itself doesn’t do one. My ballot isn’t due for 29 more days and the poll doesn’t come out until Oct. 1, but that email plus a similar question about the Illini in my weekly chat got me thinking.
Where will I put Illinois?
I’m a big of a pragmatist. A realist, if you will. I see an Illinois basketball team that should be better, but it’s also one that went 12-21 last season with struggles big and small. That will play a part in how I value the team in any preseason rankings, but so will the offseason exodus of players across the Big Ten. The Illini lost few. Others many.
So where do I stand 68 days until the season opener against Nicholls State? Well, Katz is right. I would rank the Spartans, Terrapins, Boilermakers and Buckeyes ahead of Illinois. That doesn’t require much imagination. But until the Illini show what they are on the court this season — the pragmatist in me breaking the surface — I’m tempted to keep the likes of Michigan and maybe even Wisconsin ahead of them, too.
But fifth, sixth or seventh? Still better than the bottom four, which has been Illinois’ final home all too often the past half dozen seasons.