After an abysmal second half last season, the firing of its coach and the loss of an NBA lottery-pick center, few expected Illinois to be where it's at.
Under new coach John Groce and some hot 3-point shooting, the 13th-ranked Fighting Illini can go 9-0 for the second straight year Tuesday night against visiting Western Carolina.
The Illini will soon want to depart from last year's script, though, as the team finished 7-15 after starting 10-0. But spirits are much higher in Champaign thus far, particularly after they received a late spark from an unlikely source in Wednesday's 75-62 home win over Georgia Tech in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Illinois trailed by four with 7:15 remaining, before junior Joseph Bertrand scored every point in a 10-0 run, which sparked a 21-4 game-ending run for his team. Twelve of the reserve guard's 15 points came in the second half and he finished 6 of 8 from the floor.
The Illini held the Yellow Jackets to 1-of-11 shooting to end the game.