CHAMPAIGN — The expectation this season for Illinois men's basketball is vast improvement from last year's 12-21 record. Both inside and certainly outside the program given the national media buzz around Brad Underwood's team.
That buzz took on a more tangible form when the Associated Press preseason poll was released Monday morning. Illinois wasn't among the top 25 teams in the country, but received votes that would nominally place them 33rd.
Michigan State tops the poll at No. 1, one of five opponents the Illini will play this season who are on the first Top 25, along with Maryland (No. 7), Ohio State (No. 18), Arizona (No. 21) and Purdue (No. 23).
Illinois' first game against a preseason Top 25 team is at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10 with a nonconference game at Arizona before the Illini play at Maryland on Dec. 7. Those two teams will also meet at State Farm Center in Champaign on Feb. 7, while the Illini play at Michigan State on Jan. 2 and host the Spartans on Feb. 11. Illinois only plays single games against Purdue and Ohio State this upcoming season, both on the road, with the Illini visiting the Boilermakers on Jan. 21 and the Buckeyes on March 4.
The last time Illinois was ranked in the top 25 was the 2014-15 season. After starting the year with six straight wins, including a Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational championship with a victory against Baylor, John Groce's third team was ranked No. 24.
That ranking lasted exactly one week. The Illini followed up their wins in Las Vegas with a loss at No. 15 Miami and home victory against American and then dropped out of the poll before losing to No. 7 Villanova at Madison Square Garden and Oregon at the United Center the next week.
Here's the first AP poll of the 2019 season:
1. Michigan State
9. North Carolina
12. Seton Hall
13. Texas Tech
17. Utah State
18. Ohio State
20. Saint Mary's (Calif.)
Others receiving votes: Washington 164, Colorado 152, Tennessee 78, Marquette 68, Florida State 36, Davidson 34, Harvard 24, Illinois 14, Missouri 13, Mississippi State 12, Houston 11, Georgetown 11, Cincinnati 8, Notre Dame 7, Creighton 4, Syracuse 3, North Carolina State 3, Vermont 2, Alabama 2, Southern Cal 2, Liberty 2, Michigan 2, Dayton 1, Colgate 1, Providence 1.
Illinois beat writer Scott Richey is an AP voter. Here is his preseason ballot:
2. Michigan State
9. North Carolina
10. Seton Hall
12. Texas Tech
14. Utah State
21. Ohio State
22. Saint Mary’s