Improved talent translating to more wins for the Illinois basketball program

It is pretty simple, the more talent the more wins. But over the past decade, this has not been more clearer than with the Illinois basketball program.
Penn State  v Illinois
Penn State v Illinois / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

Illinois basketball has undoubtedly entered a golden era of the program, as winning has started to hit levels we haven’t seen in over a decade.

What has kicked off this great winning trend for the Illini? You can look at coaching on the court, which has something to do with it. Brad Underwood has been able to elevate his teams to great heights since taking over a floundering program.

Upgraded facilities and money flowing into the program are also factors in why Illinois basketball has seen a resurgence. What does good coaching, nice facilities, and money flowing into the program bring you?

Better talent.

Talent does matter on the basketball court. I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten in the previous regime, but I now realize how great things are with a capable coaching staff and an athletic director who cares.

I put together a chart of the past 10 Illinois basketball rosters. This chart has the average recruiting rating for players on those rosters who played at least 10 minutes per game.

For example, in 2018-19, Illinois’ roster that season had an average recruiting rating of 89.857 coming out of high school and/or the transfer portal. The numbers were pulled from 247Sports. So, the higher the average recruit rating number, the more talent that was on the roster.

Talent on the roster for the Illinois basketball team is correlating to wins on the court

When you look at the average recruit rating for Illinois basketball rosters in the past 10 seasons, the worst team was the 2017-18 squad.

The 2017-18 roster was Underwood’s first season, and it was essentially an inherited team. On March 18, 2017, Underwood was officially hired at Illinois, leaving him to mold the roster left behind by the previous coaching staff. Recruiting was essentially buttoned up, so there wasn’t much Underwood could do.

Illinois ended up winning 14 games during the 2017-18 campaign with a roster that had a 10-year low recruit rating of 88.5. The two most talented players, on paper, for the Illini that season were Leron Black (96 overall) and Aaron Jordan (93 overall).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the highest recruit rating for an Illinois basketball roster was the 2020-21 season. Illinois’ roster averaged a recruiting rating of 92.625.

That 2020-21 squad was the team that tore through the regular season 20-6 overall, won the Big Ten Tournament, and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.

The correlation between talent and success on the court doesn’t stop there.

Out of the past 10 seasons of Illinois basketball, the top four highest-rated rosters when it comes to recruiting numbers happened in the last four seasons.

In this four-season stretch, from 2020-21 through 2023-24, Illinois has an overall record of 96-39, which comes out to a 71.1% winning percentage.

In Illinois’ six seasons prior, from 2014-15 through 2019-20, the program had an overall record of 101-97, which is a 51.0% winning percentage.

Illinois fans dealt with some incredibly mediocre basketball for quite some time. Stability was brought into the athletic department when Josh Whitman became the athletic director.

Stability and resources brought in Underwood. Underwood brought in great coaches throughout his time. All of this helped bring in great talent. The more talent, the more wins. It is the perfect storm of success. Let’s not take it for granted.

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