CHAMPAIGN — The last time Illinois men's basketball was ranked in the AP Top 25, John Groce was coach, Centennial grad Rayvonte Rice was the Illini's leading scorer and State Farm Center had yet to be renovated.
It was a one-week stint for Illinois as a ranked team in early December 2014. Winning the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational pushed the Illini to No. 24 in the country. The next week they were out after a two-game split featuring a loss at No. 15 Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and a home win against American.
Illinois has yet to make it back in. The last 92 polls — during the course of 4 1 / 2 seasons — have been released week by week without the Illini in the picture.
While the odds aren't particularly strong Illinois will have a place on the 2019-20 preseason AP Top 25, the Illini have captured the attention of national pundits. The Big Ten Network's Andy Katz is most enamored, ranking the Illini at No. 21 among his Power 36 he compiles as an NCAA.com correspondent.
The nature of the Illinois roster might be playing into Katz's decision. While plenty of Big Ten teams — and more nationally — felt the sting of losing key players as early entrants to the NBA draft, the Illini will return essentially their entire roster and its top four scorers in Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Andres Feliz.
Illinois checks in as the fifth-best Big Ten team in Katz's ranking. Michigan State holds down the No. 1 spot nationally, and the Spartans are followed by No. 11 Maryland, No. 16 Purdue and No. 18 Ohio State. Wisconsin and Penn State round out Katz's Big Ten teams at Nos. 28 and 34, respectively.