Brad Underwood is entering his sixth season leading the Illinois basketball program, and he’s trying to lead a new-look roster into his first Sweet 16 appearance since taking over the program.

During the 2021-22 season, Illinois took home a share of the regular-season B1G title. Unfortunately, the Illini lost a number of key pieces from that team, including veteran guard Trent Frazier and star big man Kofi Cockburn.

Despite those departures, Underwood addressed the media Monday and revealed he believes this year’s squad could be the best defensive team he’s had to date. He said the team’s condition is ahead of schedule compared to years past.

As for a nonconference schedule that includes the likes of Syracuse, Texas and UCLA, Underwood knows that slate will test the Illini. But he also admitted that’s the point of scheduling those contests.

We’ll see how the Illini shape up with a lot of new faces when the season rolls around.