Insider knows you're hot for hoops during the summer, so we're bringing you a closer look at a few of the big-profile schools before most freshmen have even moved into their dorms. We continue today with Illinois.
The 2009-10 season was filled with numerous ups and downs for Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini. Among the highs: an upset road win against Wisconsin, a home W against Michigan State and a 35-10 run in the second half to stun Clemson on Dec. 2, 2009. But the lows -- with the failure to qualify for an NCAA tournament bid chief among them -- reflected Illinois' inconsistencies. "Last season, we had to make dramatic comebacks to either win a game or lose a game," says Demetri McCamey, one of four seniors who dot UI's roster. "This year we want to make sure we throw the first punch."
Virtually the same group that swallowed the bitter pill of being the 66th-best team in 2009-10 is back on campus, and the hype surrounding UI is quietly growing. Illinois has been mentioned as a potential dark-horse candidate for the Big Ten title, a third option for those who don't expect Purdue or Michigan State to quickly distance themselves once conference play begins. Illinois returns 91.7 percent of minutes per game as well as 91.8 percent of points per game -- both highs in the conference. That, along with a stacked incoming class, should help spread the load this season.