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Commentary | Between Illinois, SLU and Mizzou, it could be a special year for St. Louis area college hoops fans

Mizzou, Illinois and SLU have all made the NCAA Tournament in the same season just twice in the past 20 years. This season, all three programs look poised to impress

ST. LOUIS — Are you a college basketball fan seeking a reason to get excited about something this year? Well, you (might) be in luck. As long as the pandemic doesn't wreck the season.

All three of our the major college programs from around our "area" are primed for exciting seasons. Between Illinois, Saint Louis and Missouri, our little bubble of the country could provide quite a bit of fun moments this upcoming season.

Mizzou, Illinois and SLU have all made the NCAA Tournament in the same season just twice in the past 20 years. This season, they all look like they could be dancing come March.

Let's start with the most hyped team of the three.

The Illini are currently the No. 8 ranked team in the entire country. They're anchored by legit college stars Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, who are one of the best one-two punches in all of college hoops.

It looks like they can shoot this year too, with new addition Adam Miller primed to become a big part of Illinois' Final Four hopes. The national basketball media loves Illinois early, and there is a very real chance that their projection is correct this year.

The Big 10 is one of the best basketball conferences, if not the absolute best, in the country. And Illinois has the talent to be the best of the bunch.

Now let's look at the team nobody should overlook. After all, this is the moment they've been building to for years.

Saint Louis and head coach Travis Ford have quietly constructed one of the deepest rosters in college basketball. Seriously, the Billikens have eight or nine guys who could start on most teams.

This is Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French's senior seasons. They tested the NBA waters in the summer, but running it back in 2020-2021 was always the plan for SLU.

The Bills have a guy for everything. Need an instant bucket? Here's Javonte Perkins. Need an assist machine? Here's Yuri Collins. Need some lockdown defense? Here's Fred Thatch. Need a lights-out shooter? Here's Gibson Jimerson. Need some highlight-reel dunks? Terrence Hargrove Jr.

I'm surprised the Billikens didn't get more love in the preseason spotlight.

They got a taste of the tournament in 2019, but this is the loaded kind of roster that can compete with anyone and make a deep run. They're built to last.

Now let's look at Mizzou.

The last two years have been disappointing, but there's one big thing working for the Tigers this season: Experience.

Missouri has nine upperclassmen on this year's roster, led by four seniors. They are one of the most experienced teams in all of college basketball.

Dru Smith, Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon have continued to improve, and want to make the most of their final acts in college. Junior Xavier Pinson might be one of the most underrated players in the country, and can take over a game if he gets hot.

The SEC is by no means a juggernaut of a conference on the hardwood, and the Tigers can make a little bit of noise this season. This is a huge year for head coach Cuonzo Martin, and he knows it. The Tigers should be ready.

So this season, no matter who you root for, you have reasons to be hopeful. Just as long as college basketball is able to get through the season without the pandemic creating too much havoc, that is.

Now we just have to figure out how to get all three of these teams to play each other on a consistent basis.

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