Illinois ranked 11th in the first AP Top 25 men’s basketball poll


ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – MARCH 02: Kofi Cockburn #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrates a first half basket with Da’Monte Williams #20 while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on March 02, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – A year ago, Illinois enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in the history of the program, but had to deal with the sting of an early NCAA Tournament exit.

Balancing the achievement of their first Big Ten Tournament title and No. 1 seed and the second round elimination at the hands of Loyola is what Illinois fans have been doing since last March. But despite losing one of the best players in the country to the NBA, the Illini will have a strong roster to try and take another step during the 2021-2022 campaign.

Many in the country believe the same thing, which was reflected in the preseason rankings that were released on Monday.

Brad Underwood’s Illini are ranked 11th in the first AP Top 25 men’s basketball poll of the season, marking the second-straight year the team has been included on the list. Last season, Illinois was ranked eighth to start the season and rose as high as No. 2 in the country over the course of the season.

The Illini are one of five Big Ten teams who are ranked, as they sit behind Michigan (No. 6) and Purdue (No.7), and ahead of Ohio State (No. 17) and Maryland (No. 21). Gonzaga,the national runner-up from lastseason, is ranked No. 1 with UCLA, Kansas, Villanova, and Texas rounding out the Top 5.

Despite losing first team All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu, who was drafted by the Bulls this summer, the Illini return a strong team with remaining players along with a few new addition. Center Kofi Cockburn along with guards Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, and Andre Curbelo return from last season’s team while transfers Omar Payne (forward) and Alfonso Plummer join the team.

Illinois plays their exhibition opener against St. Francis (IL) on Saturday at the State Farm Center with their season opener Jackson State coming on November 9th in Champaign.

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