Illinois basketball: 5 best seasons in Fighting Illini history, ranked

Illinois basketball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Illinois basketball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
2 of 5
Best Illinois basketball seasons
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

No. 11 Coaches/ No. 13 AP. 4. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. 481. Big Ten Regular Season Champions, Sweet 16. 2003-2004 26-7 (13-3). player

Illinois basketball reaches Sweet 16 in 2003-2004.

Fresh off of three straight seasons with 25 wins or more, this version of the Fighting Illini may be one of the most underrated Illini teams in history. Led by first-year coach Bruce Weber following the departure of now Kansas legend Bill Self, the Illini did not miss a beat after the coaching change.

Led by sophomores Williams and Dee Brown, the Illini finished ranked in the top-15 in the final AP and Coaches poll. This ranking coincided with a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament and put them in a prime position to make a deep tournament run.

While only beating two ranked teams during the season, the biggest win for this version of the Illini could possibly be against No. 12 Wisconsin, a team that had beaten them by 20 in their previous matchup. The Illini earned quality wins against Arkansas, Missouri, and Memphis to pair alongside their 13 Big Ten wins.

After cruising by Murray State and Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament, Illinois was set to face perennial powerhouse Duke in the Sweet 16. The Illini knew they would have their hands full containing the talented scoring pair of J.J. Redick and Luol Deng, both of which would go on to have lengthy NBA careers. The Blue Devils were too much though and pulled away for a 72-62 victory.

Even though the 2003-2004 Fighting Illini team may not be the best in Illini history, it certainly set the stage for one of the greatest teams to ever play in Champaign.