Illinois Basketball: Illini a top 20 program in the first KenPom rankings

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: The Big Ten logo on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Championship of the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament on March 13, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: The Big Ten logo on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Championship of the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament on March 13, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images) /
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The first KenPom rankings are out for the 2023-24 season, and the Illinois basketball team is one of the country’s best programs.

Last season didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to. Falling to Arkansas in the first round was a disappointing result. But the Illini have reloaded. We are coming back this season with the most experienced team I have ever seen in college basketball.

At the end of the 2022-23 campaign, Illinois finished No. 35 in the KenPom rankings. These rankings break down both sides of the court more extensively and also factor in luck. No. 35 is about where I would have put the Illini even before I saw where KenPom had them ranked.

A new season is on the horizon, though. It has to be hard to peg down where each team should be ranked because there has been so much change, especially with the transfer portal, but KenPom released its first 2023-24 rankings recently.

In the new rankings, Purdue takes the overall No. 1 spot. They bring back big man Zach Edey after making the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed in 2022-23. The second Big Ten team is Michigan State at No. 13. They have one of the best backcourts in the nation.

Who is the third Big Ten team in the rankings? Illinois. Checking in at No. 19 in the first KenPom rankings are the Illini.

Illinois basketball doesn’t trend well historically in the KenPom rankings

No. 19 to start the season is a pretty big deal. KenPom has the Illini as the No. 3 team in the Big Ten, so they see us as a competitive program and they should.

Illinois is laced with a ton of experience this season. We have four fifth-year seniors, all of whom will either start or get a lot of playing time in the second rotation. The Illini also return six out of the nine players who saw minutes in the NCAA tournament game against Arkansas.

I am sure all of this factors into the Illini starting the

2023-24 season

at No. 19 in the KenPom rankings. These rankings haven’t been the friendliest to the Orange and Blue in the past, though.

Since 2012, over the past 13 seasons, Illinois has finished the year No. 19 or better in the KenPom rankings just once. In 2021, the Illini finished ranked No. 4 in the country. We were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that year.

It would be nice to see the Orange and Blue stay inside the top 20 all year long in the KenPom rankings. This team has a chance to be truly special, and I can’t wait for the start of the season.

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