Men's preview: No. 25 Illinois
In preparation for the upcoming college season, Golfweek is breaking down the rosters of each of its preseason top 30 teams.
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2011-2012 Golfweek rank: 30
Go-to-guy: Thomas Pieters
Season outlook: Coming off a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship and a fourth consecutive Big Ten title, Illinois is poised to continue both streaks this season.
In junior Thomas Pieters, the defending NCAA individual champion, the Illini have an anchor at the top of the lineup. This summer, Pieters played on the winning European team at the Palmer Cup, won the Monroe Invitational and ousted Jordan Spieth at the U.S. Amateur. The Belgium native was second on the team last season with a 71.64 stroke average, notching two victories and four other top 5s. His NCAA individual title marked the second by an Illinois player in three years – Scott Langley did it in 2010.
The Illini lost 2012 Big Ten champion Luke Guthrie and his 71.19 stroke average to graduation, but returns senior Mason Jacobs, who played all 37 rounds last season and posted four top-15 finishes. Sophomore Brian Campbell also showed promise as a freshman, playing his best golf late in the season (T-15 Big Ten Championship, T-10 at NCAA regionals). And head coach Mike Small always seems to get the best out of his players.