Illini Women’s Basketball Ranked in AP Preseason Poll For First Time in 24 Years

For the first time since November 1999, Illinois women’s basketball will begin a season ranked in a preseason poll.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Senior Writer

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

CHAMPAIGN — The last time the University of Illinois women’s basketball program began a season ranked in a preseason poll, their current head coach was a sophomore in college.

Illinois was ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll for the first time since Nov. 6, 1999 when the Illini were placed No. 12 before the start of the 1999-2000 season. At that time, current Illinois head coach Shauna Green was 10 days removed from celebrating her 20th birthday while going through her sophomore year at Canisius College.

Nobody on this current 2023-24 roster at Illinois had been born the last time the Illini began a college basketball season with a number next to its name.

Illinois, which returns all five starters from a squad that earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years last season, was one of five Big Ten Conference teams in the 2023-24 AP preseason poll.

“It's very nice to have our returning five starters back, and we added some depth this year with two freshmen and two transfers,” Green said. “We really needed depth last year. We just were not deep enough, so we addressed some spots we knew we needed to get better at.”

Iowa was the highest ranked Big Ten Conference program in the poll at No. 3.  The Hawkeyes, fresh off their deepest NCAA tournament run ever and first trip to the championship game, will be led by the 2023 Naismith College Player of the Year Caitlin Clark. Ohio State and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cotie McMahon comes in 7th. Indiana came in at No. 10 after Teri Moren’s squad led by Mackenzie Holmes finished with a 28–4 overall record last season that included a league-best 16–2 mark in Big Ten play and a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Maryland, which has four players who shot at least 39 percent from 3-point range last season (Lavender Briggs, Brinae Alexander, Bri McDaniel and N.C. State transfer Jakia Brown-Turner), was ranked No. 14 in the poll.

Defending national champion LSU, led by 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese, begins the 2023-24 at No. 1 in the preseason AP poll followed by Connecticut, Iowa, UCLA, and Utah rounding out the nation’s top five.

The Illini will return each piece from its top six player rotation on a 2022-23 squad that finished with an overall record of 22-10 and lost in the First Four round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament to Mississippi State in South Bend, Indiana last March. However, Green is planning to inject key new pieces into her lineup in her second season in Champaign as the Illini acquired 6-foot-3 graduate transfer Camille Hobby from North Carolina State, where she averaged eight points and four rebounds a game last season as a senior. Even before the success on the court in her first season at Illinois, Green reached back to her college roots on the recruiting trail to get the signing of Buffalo native guard Gretchen Dolan, who averaged 39 points a game as a senior and ended her high school career with 2,622 points. Dolan, whose mother Kristen played basketball at Green’s alma mater from 1987-91, will likely come off the bench in her first collegiate season but that doesn’t mean her head coach wants her game to change.

“I knew she was a good player, but just seeing how quickly she's transitioned and caught on to stuff, she's ahead of the game for a freshman, and I think she's really going to help us,” Green said. "Gretchen could be really, really good, and she's going to be really, really good. She's going to be able to help us right away with her ability to score. She's a great player, but she's a great kid. She loves the game. You can tell she's a coach's kid, loves the game, loves to put the work in, so I'm really excited about her.”

Illinois returns one of the nation’s best guards in Makira Cook as she followed Green from Dayton and proceeded to put together one of the best seasons in program history. Cook became the first Illini player since 2010 to earn All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors by both league coaches and media.

Illinois will play a ranked team in its non-conference schedule as they head to Washington D.C. as part of the Citi Shamrock Classic to play Notre Dame on NBC on Nov. 18. One week earlier, the Illini will also face 2023 NCAA Tournament participant Marquette in a true road game at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee on Nov. 11.

“Our non-conference schedule, we upped it from last year, which was needed, and we'll continue to hopefully add to that in terms of the competition level that we have," Green said. "This league is so deep this year, and it's going to be another really tough battle every single night with every single team in this conference.”

Illinois, which was voted fifth in the preseason Big Ten Conference poll by the league’s coaches, will begin Green’s second season in Champaign against Truman State in an exhibition game at State Farm Center on Oct. 30. The Illini's regular season opener will be held on Nov. 7 in Champaign against Morehead State.

“The intensity and the philosophy of basketball were really some things that changed from my first year here to last year,” said Illinois forward Kendall Bostic. “I think last year was a big learning process for us, so I really think this year, we're going to be able to build off of what we did last year instead of having to relearn everything.”

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