The Illinois basketball team is projected to finish the 2020-2021 regular season as one of the top four teams in the nation.
We have not seen the Illinois Fighting Illini play an NCAA March Madness tournament game since March 24, 2013, when the Illini got robbed in the round of 32 against No. 2 seed Miami (FL). Andy Katz, a college basketball analyst for Big Ten Network and Fox Sports, thinks that will change after releasing his latest bracketology projection Tuesday.
Katz had the Illini as a No. 1 seed. In this bracket, the Illini would play against the winner of the play-in game between the two No. 16 seeds in Prairie View A&M and St. Francis, PA. The Illini would likely advance as a No. 16 seed has defeated a No. 1 seed only once in the history of March Madness.
🚨 BRACKET PREDICTION 🚨
With less than 2 months until opening night, @TheAndyKatz gives us his FIRST prediction for the 2021 field of 68! 👀
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) September 29, 2020
No. 1 seeds have an all-time record of 139-1 against No. 16 seeds. With a win in the first round, the Illini would face the winner of No. 8 Providence and No. 9 Northern Iowa for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.
Katz projects nine Big Ten teams to go dancing next March, as No. 1 Illinois, No. 2 Iowa, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Michigan State, No. 4 Rutgers, No. 5 Indiana, No. 5 Michigan, No. 8 Purdue, and No. 10 Ohio State were all included in his bracket.
This is not the only time this offseason Katz has shown Illinois some love. A few weeks earlier, Katz released his preseason Big Ten standings prediction. The Illini checked in at No.1 on his list.
— Andy Katz (@TheAndyKatz) September 15, 2020
The return of star players Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, after both initially declared for the 2020 NBA draft, is likely the biggest reason Katz is a big believer in the Illini.
Additionally, Illinois will have senior guards Trent Frazier and Damonte Williams, who are exceptional defenders, returning this season. A high-powered incoming freshman class that ranked No. 17 in the nation is just another reason the Illini should be a force this upcoming campaign.
The most successful Illini team was able to advance all the way to the NCAA National Championship game in 2005 but was not able to win it all. Hopefully, the Illini live up to expectations this year and maybe even get over that hump they couldn’t rise above in 2005.
With the experience, talent, leadership, and depth Illinois will have this season, it is certainly possible.