Brad Underwood’s first game with the Illini was an exhibition game against Eastern Illinois.
EIU won 80-67.
It was a shocking loss that didn’t bode well for the Underwood era, but thankfully we’ve come a long way since then.
Let’s take a look at the Illini back then and now.
Preseason Ranking: NR
Years Since Last Tournament: 5
Team Distribution: 4 4-Stars 6 3-Stars
The 2017-18 Illini finished in the bottom three in the Big Ten, ending with a 4-14 conference record and a 14-18 mark overall. The team was led in scoring by Leron Black and young freshman Trent Frazier.
One of the biggest problems on that team was a lack of size as the leading rebounder was Black, who is only 6-foot-7. The team never got going in conference play and had losing streaks of both six and four games, including 20+ point losses to Wisconsin and Penn State.
It was a disappointing season overall as the team did have some talent, but that also took a hit when heralded recruit Mark Smith chose to transfer from the team after just one season in Champaign.
Preseason Ranking: 11
Years Since Last Tournament: 0
Team Distribution: 7 4-Stars 3 3-Stars
The start of Brad Underwood’s fifth season has Illini fans looking forward to basketball season again.
The Illini finally ended their tournament drought after eight years and were Big Ten Tournament champions. We finally sent a player to the NBA after nine years, with Ayo Dosunmu getting drafted by the Chicago Bulls; hopefully this will send a message to recruits that the staff can develop NBA level talent.
The current roster is stacked with talent. Underwood has been able to score big on the transfer portal by poaching talented players from other prominent programs (ex. Omar Payne from Florida). He has managed to keep the veterans and was able to convince All-American Kofi Cockburn to return for an additional run.
On the recruiting front the program has been able to consistently get multiple top-100 players the last two seasons, showing signs of the Illini returning to national relevance and being a destination for top high school talent.
The positive trajectory of the program has also enabled the athletic department to secure more than $22 million in funding to renovate the Ubben Basketball Complex. This allows the program to have state-of-the-art facilities that will keep us on a level playing field compared to the other top programs around the country.
Underwood has also been rewarded for his great work with the program, being given an extension this offseason that makes him one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in college basketball.
After a rough start to the Underwood era in his first two seasons, he has quickly turned the program around and brought credibility and excitement back to Champaign.
All signs point towards continued success as long as we have Underwood at the helm.