CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois basketball tips off its season Monday night hosting Eastern Illinois at State Farm Center. The Illini open the season in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings for a program record fourth-straight season, coming in at No. 25. Meanwhile the Panthers are in year three of the Marty Simmons era, coming off a 9-22 season. These two teams also played in the season opener last November, with the Illini posting a 30-point win.
“They’re really talented,” Simmons said of the Illini. “They play extremely hard. But for us, our program, it gives us a chance to play one of the best programs in the country.”
“Have so much respect for Marty and the job he’s done over his career,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “I think he’s one of the best offensive coaches, maybe in the country.”
Illinois certainly has plenty of confidence coming into the season after taking down No. 1 Kansas in the Maui Strong Relief exhibition game last Sunday at State Farm Center. Underwood boasts one of his deepest rosters in his seven-year tenure with the Illini, featuring five seniors including four in their bonus COVID-19 fifth season. One of those players, Terrence Shannon Jr., was named to the Naismith Trophy Preseason Watch List on Monday. The annual award recognizes the top men’s and women’s college basketball player in the country.
In the game against the Jayhawks, Underwood says he liked his team’s aggressiveness, something they struggled with last season.
“That was an issue that led to a lot of us playing around the three-point line, never penetrating it, never diving, never creasing it,” Underwood said about last year’s team. “But the important thing is we had 26 free throws against their five-way switching, and in the second half. Those are things that I like, and we got to the foul line out of that. We found a crease, and we found a gap and we drove the ball into the paint. We were aggressive down hill. Last year we couldn’t do that.”
Illinois and Eastern Illinois tip-off at 7 p.m. in a game only seen on B1G+.