MINNEAPOLIS (Mn.) WCIA– Expectations remain for the Illini in Minneapolis as Brad Underwood starts his title defense. The Illinois head coach has had his hands on both Big Ten title trophies the past two years winning the conference tournament championship in 2021 before taking home the regular season title last season.
“We’ve come a long way and it means a lot to me that people think that highly of us again no matter who we have in the uniform so now we’ve got to go out and prove it,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said.
But the real question surrounding Illinois this season, what will the team look like after Kofi Cockburn? League coaches and players certainly aren’t sad to see him go.
“I’m happy I don’t have to see him anymore,” Iowa guard Connor McCaffery said. “One of the biggest human beings I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“No I wasn’t sad to see him go,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “He caused us a lot of problems.”
For the Illini, life post Kofi looks more position-less, something Coleman Hawkins and Terrence Shannon Jr. are embracing.
“And a lot less structure and I think a lot more stuff is more randomized than what we had in the past couple years and a lot less predictable as well,” Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins said.
Meanwhile the Illinois women and first year head coach Shauna Green are setting the foundation, looking to jump start a program in a process that all starts with recruiting.
“We’ve got to change the perception that it’s not the cool thing to do to stay in Illinois and what Brad’s done and how he changed that perception and how they’re winning Big Ten championships,” Illinois head coach Shauna Green said. “We need one and I think the rest will flow from there.”
The countdown to the start of the season is on. Just 27 days from tipoff and the women will play their conference tournament in Minneapolis in March. The men’s Big Ten tourney is at the Target Center in 2024.
The Athletic’s preseason men’s B1G poll.
- Indiana, 43 (19)
- Illinois, 81 (6)
- Michigan, 92 (1)
- Michigan State, 139
- Purdue, 141 (1)
- Ohio State, 167
- Iowa, 185 (1)
- Rutgers, 218
- Wisconsin, 229
- Maryland, 267
- Penn State, 304
- Minnesota, 334
- Northwestern, 362
- Nebraska, 378
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren opened up the morning discussing several topics including the seven billion dollar new TV rights deal and expansion in the league. The conference announced earlier this year USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten in 2024. For now, Warren says his focus remains there.
“In the climate we’re in right now in college athletics, you always have to mindful of expansion but our priority is just to make sure one we take care of our 14 member institutions now, and that we do everything that we possibly can to make sure that we flawlessly integrate USC and UCLA into the Big Ten Conference,” Warren said.