Can you believe that college basketball is just around the corner? Last season, due to COVID-19, games were still played with very few being canceled. The only thing missing were the fans and student sections.
It appears that this season, with a little luck, things will go back to being normal. And by normal, I mean, Illinois basketball is back at the top of the Big Ten Conference where it was a mainstay for years.
Head coach Brad Underwood just recently received a well-deserved contract extension.
Athletic director Josh Whitman told us several months ago that he was going to meet with Underwood to discuss a new deal.
"It was just four years ago that we brought Coach Underwood here with the vision he and I shared of returning Illinois basketball to national prominence, and he has delivered," Whitman said. "The 'Everyday Guys' culture he has developed defines our locker room and permeates every facet of the program. Coach's tenets of hard work, accountability, toughness, and team-first mindset are just a few of the principles he has instilled in our student-athletes. Coach, his staff, and the players have relentlessly maintained their high expectations, and the results have followed, culminating with the most victories in the Big Ten Conference over the last two years, a 2021 Big Ten Tournament title, and an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed."
Underwood has put the Illini back on the map. That was not an easy task for a program that was a mainstay in the Top 25 before it fell almost to the point of no return.
Under his watch, Illinois has posted the most Big Ten wins the past two seasons in school history. This season, the Fighting Illini were lucky enough to bring back possible national player of the year candidate Kofi Cockburn.
But, according to all sources, the 2021-22 Illini may be even better than last season's team. With the addition of a Omar Payne, a 6-foot-11 transfer from Florida, shooting guard Alfonso Plummer, and a healthy Austin Hutcherson capable of playing four positions on the court, this group is deeper with more weapons.
The league favorite will be the Purdue Boilermakers because they return a full and loaded roster as well. However, from all indications, the Illini will challenge the national media for that pre-season pick.
But the games are played on the court, not on paper. Nonetheless, it should be a great season in Champaign again.