WCIA — No. 23 Illinois will be back on the court at State Farm Center Monday night to open up its 2022-23 season against Eastern Illinois.

The Illini have had two tune-ups, one closed door scrimmage with Kansas and then an exhibition win over D-II Quincy. With its top five scorers from last season gone, things are going to look a little different. Especially without the presence of All-American Kofi Cockburn.

“One of the things that happened last year was we played without Kofi,” said Brad Underwood. “So we got a little bit of a five out feel in some of those games. That was a pretty good snapshot of life without him.”

“It’s just a whole new team, but I feel like having a lot of new guys is a great opportunity to discover new things as a new team,” said RJ Melendez.

The Illini will host EIU for the first time since 2002, but the last time these teams played was back in 2017 when the Panthers beat the Illini in an exhibition and Underwood’s first game. The Panthers have only five returners, and with a lot of new faces they are ready to see where they stand against tough competition.

“I think we’ll learn a lot, I mean you’re playing against one of the better teams in the country, one of the better coaches, one of the better environments in all of college basketball,” said EIU head coach Marty Simmons. “I think our guys are excited about that.”

“I think it will be a great challenge for us as a team,” said Yaakema Rose Jr., a Springfield native former Parkland College guard. “Have tons of respect for Illinois, so it should be a great atmosphere all around.”

Tip-off is 8 p.m. Monday on ESPNU.