Illini Men’s Basketball Ranked in AP Preseason Poll For Fourth Consecutive Year

Illinois was one of three Big Ten Conference programs ranked in the 2023-24 Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Senior Writer

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

CHAMPAIGN — For the fourth consecutive season, Illinois men’s basketball will start a season with a number next to its name.

Illinois was ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press preseason 2023-24 men’s basketball poll, which was released Monday morning.

The Illini, which return two star players in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins from a team that made it in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, started at No. 8 in 2020-21 preseason poll, No. 11 in 2021-22, and No. 23 in 2022-23. The four-year stretch ranked in the preseason is the longest in program history as Illinois have also accumulated 55 conference wins over the last four years, the winningest stretch in Big Ten Conference play in program history.

Shannon Jr. led Illinois in scoring with 17.2 points per game while making 30 starts and shooting just 32 percent from 3-point range. The Chicago native was a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten first-team selection heading into his fifth year of college basketball. One of two players to start all 33 games during the 2022-23 campaign, Hawkins enters his fourth season at Illinois. Averaging a career-high 32.5 minutes per game as a junior, Hawkins totaled 9.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and three assists per game, all of which were career-high marks.

“We have two guys who are two of the better players in the country, not just the league," Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said during Big Ten Conference media day on Oct. 10. "To know that they went through their process, they did their due diligence and felt that coming back was in their best interest, it can really kind of springboard both of them. Off the seasons they had last year, they both grew. They can really blossom and really now put themselves in leadership roles, so I'm really excited about that.”

Illinois was one of three Big Ten Conference programs in the 2023-24 preseason poll along with No. 3 Purdue and No. 4 Michigan State. Wisconsin received the highest vote total among every unranked team in the nation while Maryland and Indiana were also on the Top 25 ballot of certain designated voters.

Being ranked to start the season is usually a very encouraging sign for the Illini program. Among the 19 previous times Illinois has been ranked in the AP preseason poll, the program has only finished the regular season unranked in the final AP poll before the NCAA Tournament just five times. However, one of those five times was last season but before the 2022-23 campaign, the last time Illinois started a season ranked and didn’t finish in the top 20 of the final regular season poll was March 2000.

The Illini’s non-conference schedule features three teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll as they host No. 5 Marquette on Nov. 14, will play No. 10 Florida Atlantic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 5 and will travel to No. 9 Tennessee for a Dec. 9 contest. The Illini’s Big Ten slate includes a home-and-home against Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland along with a road game at Wisconsin along and a home game against Indiana.

Kansas opens the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll for the fourth time in school history and the first time since Oct. 22, 2019. The Jayhawks 46 of 63 first-place votes. Illinois will host Kansas in a charity exhibition game to be televised on Big Ten Network on Oct. 29 at State Farm Center where all net proceeds will go toward providing financial resources to the relief efforts from the devastating Maui wildfires.

After Kansas, the rest of the top 10 of the 2023-24 preseason poll was Duke, Purdue, Michigan State, Marquette, defending national champion Connecticut, Houston, Creighton, Tennessee and Florida Atlantic. Gonzaga was No. 11, followed by Arizona, Miami (Fla.), Arkansas and Texas A&M. Kentucky came in at No. 16, with national runner-up San Diego State at 17 and followed by, Texas, North Carolina and Baylor. The final five programs in the poll were Southern California, Villanova, Saint Mary's, Alabama and Illinois.

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