CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCCU/WICS/WRSP) - Illinois head basketball coach Brad Underwood opened his press conference on Tuesday stating it had been 261 days since the Illini played a basketball game. A 78-76 win over Iowa in front of a packed State Farm Center to close out the Big Ten regular season. That win came just days before the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Tournament's were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday marks the much anticipated return to the court for the Illini, who open the 2020-21 season as National Championship contenders. Illinois is ranked No. 8 in the first AP Top 25 poll.
Even with the national recognition, Illinois is not taking anything for granted. The team is well aware of the struggles and work it's taken to get to this point, as Brad Underwood has finally seen the shift in attitude and mindset from his guys who have gone from the hunter's to the hunted.
"I ask my team every year, 'Who's the hardest playing team in the conference?'" Underwood said. "I knew we had no chance those first couple of years, because every said Michigan State, or somebody else. Nobody said us. That's how little we thought of each other and of our program, and now that's changed."
Despite the confidence and Championship aspirations the Illini haven't had since the 2004-05 season, a year in which Illinois finished as National Runners-Up. The players know that they haven't reached the top of the mountain yet and that last years success means nothing in a new season.
There's so much more for us to prove," said preseason All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu. "We haven't accomplished anything yet.
"We're 0-0. We have no stats, nothing. We haven't accomplished anything yet. It's all outside noise. We love it and we welcome it, we know the team we are, and it starts tomorrow with North Carolina A&T."
No. 8 Illinois hosts North Carolina A&T at 1 pm on Wednesday, coverage can be found on BTN.