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Illinois basketball believes it can make NCAA tournament

Illinois seniors are optimistic heading into the 2012-13 basketball season.

Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Illinois seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are feeling optimistic about making the NCAA Tournament this year despite the turnover on the coaching staff and the roster.

Richardson told Scott Powers of ESPNChicago: "I really believe that ... I really think we could be a NCAA team."

The Fighting Illini lost center Meyers Leonard to the NBA Draft and added new head coach John Groce in the off-season.

Last year, Illinois opened the season with a 15-3 mark before ending the season losing 12 of their last 14 games.

This year, the Illini's conference schedule will be equally difficult as they will have to play current No. 1 Indiana, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 23 Wisconsin while also having No. 21 Gonzaga and No. 15 Missouri on its non-conference schedule.

In their three-year careers, Richardson and Paul have been to one NCAA tournament, one NIT tournament and are 58-44 overall but just 25-29 in conference play.