Illinois basketball continues to trend upwards, as we are now rated as a top 15 program in the country.
If you were born sometime roughly 1994 and earlier, you would have experienced the massive roller coaster that is the Illini. The glory days in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s were something special.
That golden era of Illinois basketball quickly dwindled to making the NCAA tournament every other year under Bruce Weber to the Big Dance being nearly non-existent during the John Groce era. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if we would ever come close to getting back to the glory days.
In steps Brad Underwood. Recruiting immediately improves and winning was soon to follow. Illinois is now coming off qualifying for their third NCAA tournament in a row. We have also won the Big Ten Tournament and the Big Ten regular season in those three years.
Needless to say, Illinois is now trending in the right direction. We can see that through our own eyes, but it is always fun to see some numbers that also show the Illini going in a positive direction.
On Monday, Ken Pomeroy of Kenpom.com released an update on his program ratings. These program ratings date back to 1997, according to his website.
Coming into Monday, Illinois checked in as the No. 20 program in the country. That number has now changed, as Pomeroy moved the Illini up five spots to No. 15 in the nation.
Kenpom.com shows the massive peaks and valleys of the Illinois basketball program.
Being a top 15 program in the country should be a badge of honor. We are a legit top team, and I have to give Underwood all of the credit in the world. He has been through a lot since becoming the head coach.
On top of a worldwide pandemic, Underwood has had to deal with transfers from some of his biggest players, mainly Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller. He also completely rebuilt his coaching staff after most of them left for Kentucky.
Illinois basketball is clearly a rising program once again, though. As mentioned above, we are making the postseason consistently now. Illinois has some Big Ten hardware to add to the trophy case as well. It is interesting to look at the Kenpom.com ratings to see when times were the best and when they were the worst.
Back in 2005, obviously, is when the Illini had the highest Kenpom.com rating. We ranked No. 2 in the country at that time, and I assume North Carolina was the only team ahead of us.
What piques my interest about the ratings is when Illinois was the worst rated since 1997. You don’t have to go too far back. Illinois was rated as the No. 125 program in the country back in 2016. That was the final season of the Groce era, which makes complete sense.
I look for Illinois to continue to be a top 20 program in the country. I think that is a fair expectation given the fact we are a consistent winner now. Mediocrity is unacceptable. Underwood knows this. He has done a great job building Illinois basketball back into a respectable program.