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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The Associated Press

Top 25 preseason poll was released Monday — and Illinois continued its run as a ranked team with the No. 11 spot in the poll. Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter

Scott Richey weighs in (More, C-3):

Reason for ranking

Kofi Cockburn’s return for his junior season assured Illinois a spot in the preseason top 25. Had the All-American center not opted for another year in Champaign, the Illini might have found themselves on the outside looking in for the preseason poll. But not too far outside, with Andre Curbelo also back along with several other veteran players. Curbelo, though, is facing soaring expectations. Those were added to Monday with his inclusion on the Bob Cousy Award watch list among the top point guards in the country. Former Illini Ayo Dosunmu is the reigning Cousy Award winner, and Illinois is one of just three programs — North Carolina and UConn the others — with multiple winners.

Still streaking

Illinois broke into the top 10 all-time in program history for consecutive weeks ranked in 2020-21. The Illini’s inclusion in the 2021-22 preseason poll extended that streak to 21 weeks — good for a tie with Virginia for seventh-longest active streak in the country. Gonzaga leads the way in that regard having been ranked in each of the last 96 polls. Illinois’ longest streak in program history is 43 weeks set in the early 1950s. This team could break into the top five all-time should it maintain ranked status through the majority of the coming season. Remember how the ‘80s belonged to the Illini? Two separate ranked streaks of 37 weeks each happened in that decade.

Power moves

Illinois fell just 33 points short of starting a second straight year as a preseason top-10 team. That the Illini were also the third of five Big Ten teams ranked in the AP Top 25, though, wasn’t necessarily a surprise given Michigan and Purdue were also ranked higher in the preseason Big Ten poll. The Big Ten’s status as the top conference in the country, though, could be challenged in 2021-22. The SEC also had five teams ranked, and the ACC finished with four in the first poll of the year. But Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers lingering in “others receiving votes” territory could be a boost to the Big Ten as the season progresses.

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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