Football season may not even be underway yet, but it's never too soon to talk about Fighting Illini basketball.
The expectations are as big as ever this year, with the trio of juniors returning - Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, and Mike Tisdale. The basketball pundits - including Dick Vitale - agree about these expectations.
Vitale took a break from promoting the ACC to do his annual preseason rankings of the top 40 teams in college basketball, and the Illini found themselves ranked 10th overall in Dicky V's poll.
The high placement of the Illini seems a bit too high, seeing how the Illini stumbled a bit down the line at the end of last year. Illinois found itself bumped out of the top 25 rankings after a last-second loss to Penn State to close the regular season, a beatdown from Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, and a season-ending upset loss to Western Kentucky at the NCAA Tournament. The losses to Purdue and Western Kentucky could be attributed to the loss of then-senior Chester Frazier due to a broken hand, but that also goes to the show how valuable Frazier was to the team's success.
Losing Frazier, as well as Trent Meachem, may be tough to overcome, especially if junior Alex Legion fails to improve upon his largely unimpressive showing during last season. It may be too much to ask freshmen DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul to step in and contribute immediately, although both are capable of doing just that (and don't sleep on Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey, either).
A top 10 Illini squad is very much possible, especially if the trio of McCamey, Davis, and Tisdale makes the progressive step forward that the coaching staff believes they can. With Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, and Minnesota returning a bucket full of starters, there is sure to be a dogfight for the Big Ten title.