MAC ON SPORTS: HIGH EXPECTATIONS AGAIN FOR THE FIGHTING ILLINI
Head Coach Brad Underwood’s fifth Illini squad returns three starters and six of its top nine players from last year’s rotation. Led by national player of the year candidate Kofi Cockburn 2021 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Andre Curbelo and fifth-year starters Trent Frazier, Da’ Monte Williams and Jacob Illinois welcomes back 63% of its minutes, 60% of its points, and 69% of its rebounds while adding standout transfers and a top-25 ranked recruiting class to the mix.
The winningest Big Ten program over the last two years, Illinois is coming off a 24-7 campaign, including a 16-4 mark in conference play followed by the Big Ten Tournament championship and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois set school records with 19 victories against Big Ten competitors and six wins over top-10 teams. The Illini ended the year at No. 2 in the AP poll, the second-highest final ranking in program history.
Illinois Big Ten Schedule Notes
• Seven teams Illinois plays twice (home and away): Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and Rutgers
• Three teams Illinois plays only at home: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin
• Three teams Illinois plays only on the road: Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska
• Illinois opens league play on a Friday night, hosting Rutgers on Dec. 3.
• Illinois has consecutive home games vs. Michigan on Friday, Jan. 14, followed by Purdue on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17.
• Illinois has a stretch of four out of five on the road from Feb. 5-19, with back-to-backs at Indiana (Feb. 5) and Purdue (Feb. 10), and at Rutgers (Feb. 16) and Michigan State (Feb. 19).
• Illinois closes with three out of four at State Farm Center, finishing the regular season March 6 against Iowa.
• Illinois does not have a Saturday home game.
I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.