INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WCIA) — The venue has a new name but the feelings are the same for the Illini, who for the first time, were back in the building where last season ended.
It’s been seven months since Loyola shocked Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Indy, ending a historic season for the Orange and Blue. Walking into the arena where they were upset was a full circle moment for the team.
“I got flashbacks man,” says sophomore Andre Curbelo. “I’m sitting here and having those memories running in the back of my head, it definitely hurts.”
“Just coming back here getting all that memory, it just fires me up like I’m ready, I want to go play right now,” says junior Kofi Cockburn.
It’s all talk at media day but the expectations are real for the Illini, who return three starters from a team that won a Big Ten tournament title and earned a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. Reigning league sixth man of the year Curbelo isn’t shying away from what could be.
“I’m not afraid to say we’re going to be better than last year and we’ve just got to continue to work,” says Curbelo. “If we put in that work, we’re going to be pretty special.”
“I feel really good about the progress we’ve made but we’re not at the top of the mountain, that’s for darn sure,” says head coach Brad Underwood. “We’re a long way from it, we’ve got to keep growing, we’ve got to keep working and improving in all areas.”
“It’s a great program with really I think a fan base that they love their hoops,” says Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann. “We played them in the Big Ten championship game and it was a phenomenal environment.”
The Big Ten tournament returns here to the home of the Pacers in March, as the Illini will look to defend their title.