CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — After a turnaround season in 2022-23, the Fighting Illini women’s basketball team added another piece to the progress they’ve made under Shauna Green: the team is ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25 poll for 2023-24, coming in at No. 23.
The Illini women cracked the Top 25 last season for the first time since 2000. But you have to go back a season prior – 1999 – to find the last time the Illini were ranked in the preseason poll.
1999 is a year before most current U of I students were born. They’re looking forward to what is looking like a promising season.
“Having a higher ranking just kind of improves the excitement for the games and just a lot more energy in the stands,” Shayan Azmoodeh said.
The hope on campus is that Green can make another large jump in year two.
“Last year was a great year with great success. And I think I think this this year’s going even better,” Matthew Guiboard said. “We had a good roster last year, not too many people graduated. Some of our star players are staying and we got some really good recruits. I think the campus is going to be energetic.”
Guiboard is a member of the basketball pep band and went to every game last season. He said the ranking creates excitement, which should bring more fans to the games.
“Going into this year, expectations are higher, but at the same time, that’ll bring more people,” he said. “The big games last year were incredible too. Great turnout, and so energy was overall fantastic.”
Other students on campus also see another competitive team taking the court this winter.
“It’s great to see them catching up to kind of other programs,” Azmoodeh added. “I know the men’s program has been kind of a top program in the nation and finally seeing the women’s team kind of match them is really exciting.”
It’s safe to say campus is buzzing with the chance to have another contender on the hardwood this year.
“People like to watch competitive teams, especially when there’s a lot on the line,” Dan Coxworth said. “And I think that draws a lot of people into the stadium and maybe just to their couches to watch the game on TV.
The 23rd ranked Illini women start their season on Nov. 7 against Morehead State. Before that, they’ll play an exhibition game against Truman State on Oct. 30.
The Illini women aren’t the only ones entering basketball season ranked. The Illini men also cracked the Top 25. Illinois is one of eight universities in the nation to have both its men’s and women’s teams ranked in the AP Preseason polls; none of the others are in the Big Ten Conference.