CHAMPAIGN – It’s been a renaissance for the Fighting Illini men’s basketball program as the expectations are once again high for the reigning Big Ten regular season champions.

Further proof of that came on Monday when the Associated Press had Illinois among their best ahead of the start of the 2022-2023 campaign.

Brad Underwood’s team is ranked 23rd in the preseason poll, marking the third-straight year in which they’ve been there to begin a season. That is the longest streak from the program since they were in the first poll for three straight years from 2004 through 2006.

The ranking comes despite the fact that Illinois lost a number of key players last year, including Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer, Da’Monte Williams, Jacob Grandison, and Andre Curbelo.

But the team has added a number of talented players freshman, including guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech), guard/forward Matthew Mayer (Baylor), along with four-star recruits Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps.

Underwood has led the Illini to two-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and it would have been three had the pandemic not canceled the 2020 event. Before that, the program hasn’t been to “March Madness” since the 2012-2013 season.

Illinois opens play first with an exhibition against Quincy at the State Farm Center on Friday, October 28th before opening the regular season against Eastern Illinois at home on Monday, November 7th.

Here is the entire AP Top 25 men’s basketball preseason poll:

1. North Carolina

2. Gonzaga

3. Houston

4. Kentucky

T5. Baylor

T5. Kansas

7. Duke

8. UCLA

9. Creighton

10. Arkansas

11. Tennessee

12. Texas

13. Indiana

14. TCU

15. Auburn

16. Villanova

17. Arizona

18. Virginia

19. San Diego State

20. Alabama

21. Oregon

22. Michigan

23. Illinois

24. Dayton

25. Texas Tech