Illinois hasn’t gone dancing since the 2012-13 season, but coach Brad Underwood is setting the expectations high in his first campaign in Champaign.
“I think we should be an NCAA Tournament team next year,” Underwood told FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein on the College Hoops Today Podcast published Monday. “I like our pieces and I like our toughness and grit.
“I think Mark Smith, who we just signed, has a chance to be one of the best freshmen in the country. We should be right there in the middle [of] things in the Big Ten.”
Underwood’s teams have appeared in March Madness in all four of his seasons as a head coach, including three in a row with Stephen F. Austin. In his one season at Oklahoma State, this last season, the Cowboys lost their opening game in the NCAA Tournament to Michigan.
Illinois fired John Groce following an 18-14 regular season and signed Underwood to a six-year contract. In Groce’s five seasons, the Fighting Illini went to the tournament once — Groce’s first season. If Underwood can match that in his first season, it would give the Illinois faithful excitement it hasn’t experienced in years about the program.