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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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.

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Episode 57: Peach Jam winners and losers

College basketball never really stops. Recruiting. More and more transfers every offseason. It’s a 24/7/365 sport.

That said, the 2019-20 season is closer than you think. Official practices will start at the end of September. A month later comes the preseason AP poll.

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Marcus Jackson

I’m a voter — one of two in the state of Illinois last season along with the Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan. There’s 64 of us nationally.

It’s a vote The News-Gazette has held for decades, passed from beat writer to beat writer. I got it from Marcus Jackson, who got it from Paul Klee, who got it from Brett Dawson ... you get the picture.

The official date for this year’s preseason poll hasn’t been set just yet. Based on last year’s intial poll, I’ll have to figure out who I think are the top 25 teams in the country and get my ballot completed by Oct. 20.

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Paul Klee

Right now, Illinois wouldn’t be on it, but Brad Underwood’s third team continues to draw some national attention. Andy Katz isn’t an AP voter, but he has Illinois at No. 20 on his Power 36. The Athletic’s Seth Davis is a voter, and he had the Illini just outside the top 25 earlier this summer.

Jon Rothstein’s an AP voter, too. The college basketball insider for CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated tweeted out some thoughts on the Big Ten on Monday. He had Illinois ranked at No. 7 in the conference. Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu was on his preseason All-Big Ten First Team. Kofi Cockburn was listed among his 10 impact freshmen.

The national interest in the Illini continues.

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Brett Dawson

“They finished strong last season and had signature wins beating Michigan State and Maryland at Madison Square Garden,” Rothstein said. “Those are the two teams people think unanimously will be at the top of the Big Ten next year. ... With optimism comes expectations. With expectations comes the label of being hunted. That’s going to be a new dynamic for this team to deal with.”

The number of returning players Illinois will boast for the 2019-20 season is something Rothstein pointed to as driving the interest and raised expectations for this year’s Illini. Underwood brings back four of five starters and eight of 10 rotation players total from last season’s 12-21 team.

“I think when you look at Brad Underwood’s teams that have been successful at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State they had dynamic guard play,” Rothstein said. “With (Trent) Frazier and obviously with Ayo, now you’ve got two guys who could comprise one of the better backcourts in the Big Ten.

“I think they’ve also go to to identify somebody at the 3 spot that can give them consistent minutes. How much of an impact will Kofi Cockburn have on Giorgi Bezhanishvili in allowing him to play the more natural position at power forward? Those are all questions that will be answered pretty early. If you’re an Illinois fan, you’re going to know how ready your team is when they go to Arizona on Nov. 10.”

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