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25 Most Intriguing Teams for 2010-2011: #5 Illinois Fighting Illini

A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.

In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.

Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.

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In a cluttered and competitive Big Ten, all you need to know about hte potential of the Illinois Fighting Illini is a blurb from Doug Gottleib's recent column where he picks the team to win the conference:

Illinois, my pick to win the Big Ten, has looked very good so far, with two lopsided wins at home. "Brandon Paul has really improved, [Mike] Tisdale and [Mike] Davis are perfect for what they want to do, and they are bringing Jereme Richmond along slowly. [Bruce] Weber is doing it the right way by making him earn a starting spot; they are going to be very good," says one Big Ten assistant.

He may be spot on. With the return of Demetri McCamey - overlooked as a versatile guard who actually led the country in assists last season - the team confirmed to those in the know that that they would have to be taken seriously this season. With four seniors, the sophomores Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, and a talented recuriting class headlined by center Meyers Leonard and Jereme Richmond filling out a deep rotation, it's exactly the type of balanced attack Bruce Weber needs to contend.

What happened this summer:

Jeff Jordan transferred out of Champaign. Assistant coach Jerrance Howard, an integral liaison between the school and Chicago's prep hoops scene, was rumored to be leaving for Kentucky, but remained on Bruce Weber's staff.

Games that really matter:

  • 11/30 vs. North Carolina
  • 12/4 vs. Gonzaga (@ Seattle)
  • 12/22 vs. Missouri (@ St. Louis)
  • 1/18 vs. Michigan State
  • 1/22 vs. Ohio State
  • 2/19 @ Michigan State
  • 2/22 @ Ohio State
  • 3/1 @ Purdue

Most Intriguing Player

Brandon Paul (6'4" guard; sophomore)- After scoring 20+ points in his first two college games last season, I had this guy pegged as someone who could really have a successful freshman campaign. Unfortunately, it was marred with inconsistency, and instead it was D.J. Richardson earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. With the equally exciting Jereme Richmond (finally, Weber gets his Eric Gorden-type recruit) ready to make a splash, Paul is not a shoe-in to start this season. As we often see with athletic freaks, a lack of discipline manifests itself. You can't just jump over dudes when you arrive on the Division I scene, you have to develop a jump shot and understand your role in the system. If Paul can corral his talents and become a more complete, he will be part of one of the nation's top backcourts.

What's on the line:

With only one NCAA Tournament victory since the 2005 campaign where they were national runners-up, the Illini have a real opporunity for a complete season that results in individual and team awards. McCamey will content for conference POY, with Richardson and  Mike Tisdale will be fringe all-conference players. Fans should be very excited, and enjoy this season from start to finish.

Predicted Finish:

- Conference: 3rd

- Post-season: Sweet 16