It's been a rough few years for Illinois Fighting Illini fans. Since Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown led the Illini to the 2005 national championship game, success in the NCAA tournament has proved elusive. In 2007 and 2009, Bruce Weber's team lost first-round games (to Virginia Tech and Western Kentucky, respectively) that came down to the final possession. It's been five long years now since Illinois has won a tournament game.
This is supposed to be the year that streak ends. With all five starters returning from a team that barely missed last season's tournament, Illinois was ranked No. 16 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll. As far as preseason rankings go, that one's turned out to be pretty accurate. Heading into tonight's game in Champaign against Michigan State, Bruce Weber's team is 13-5 and ranked No. 22. And with No. 1-ranked Ohio State coming to Assembly Hall on Saturday, Illinois has a great opportunity to show that it's a legitimate Big Ten contender and not simply the team that lost to Illinois-Chicago.
In advance of the Illini squaring off against two ranked opponents, here's everything you need to know about the orange and blue in 2011: