Illini Basketball Preseason Hype Not Validated By Early Results

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Tonight sees Illini basketball host Hawaii in their fourth game of the season. We probably won’t learn a whole lot more about this team tonight, and they should likely cruise to an easy victory, you never know, given how the first three games of the season have gone.

Arizona is not the blue blood program it once was, but playing in Tucson is always tough. The Illini kept it close for about three quarters of the game, but then got curb-stomped down the stretch. The Wildcats have since moved up five slots to #14 in the AP poll. Illinois also has wins over Grand Canyon and Nicholls, but the Arizona game is truly the only early season measuring stick.

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It appears, at least via the early returns that the preseason Illini basketball hype was rather inflated. Look at the  March Madness betting sites and prognostications and you’ll see quite a few experts were bullish on Illinois not just making the tournament but getting in as a #5 seed. That’s pretty aggressive expectations for a program that hasn’t made the tourney since 2013 and hasn’t reached the second weekend since 2005.

If you’re a #5 seed, then you’re just a win over a #12 seed and then another victory (perhaps a mild upset over a #4 seed) away from reaching the Sweet Sixteen. I just can’t see the smart money, at places like mybookie sportsbook review, being that bullish on Illinois. Are they better? Yes, Are they that much better? Well, look at it this way, it’s last year’s team, which set the school record for losses, a year more seasoned and experienced, plus basically subbing Kofi Cockburn in and Aaron Jordan out. Plus a couple role players here and there.

That’s a very big ask! You honestly expect them to turn things around that quick? A much more realistic take would be that of ESPN’s Jay Bilas who ranked them in the mid 60s nationally. That seems about right- a NIT/NCAA Tournament bubble team.

illini basketball

Of course, we won’t really know until we get to conference season, and most likely the heart of it. It was quite common during the 2010s to see Illini basketball have strong preconference seasons, but stumble in the Big Ten. Most likely they’ll be in middle of the pack somewhere in the league. They don’t look near as strong as the likes of Michigan State, Maryland or Ohio State, but they should definitely be a lot better than the teams on par with the level of Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern.

Needing overtime to escape against Nicholls seemed bad on opening night, but the Colonels have won at Pitt and kept is respectable against a nationally ranked team in LSU. The Illini basketball preseason media hype was certainly on par with the Cleveland Browns or Nebraska football, and those involved in the Illinois program are no doubt hoping their build-up doesn’t fizzle like it did in Cleveland or Lincoln.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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