Following much anticipation, the Big Ten announced the men’s basketball conference schedule earlier today. Illini fans have known the non-conference hoops schedule since August 11th.
Here’s a look at the Illini’s Big Ten slate and some early predictions (to see the entire 2010-2011 men’s basketball schedule, visit Writing Illini’s basketball home page).
Recapping the Non-Conference Schedule
On August 12, Writing Illini provided some early predictions on Illinois’ non-conference schedule, which is much tougher in 2010-2011 than it was in 2009-2010, when the Illini finished a disappointing 9-5.
While I could see Illinois having as few as 2 losses or as many as 4 or 5 defeats heading into the Big Ten, I had the Illini at 10-3 entering conference play.
I had Illinois losing to Texas (but beating Maryland) at Madison Square Garden, knocking off UNC and Gonzaga but then slipping up at home against Oakland, and falling to Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game.
While the Oakland pick may cause some dissension, I still need to be sold on the idea that Illinois is going to take care of business this season against apparently inferior opponents after watching last year, even in spite of the improved roster and the fact that the Illini players have been saying and doing all the right things this summer.
And now the Illini Big Ten Schedule.
Dec. 29 – vs. Iowa at Carver Hawkeye Arena (W)
Illinois was hardly impressive during 2 victories against Iowa last season (including a close affair at Carver Hawkeye) but will knock off the Hawkeyes by 8-10 points in the Big Ten opener for new coach Fran McCaffery and heralded Illini freshman Jereme Richmond, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard.
Jan. 2 – vs. Wisconsin at Assembly Hall (W)
When initially looking at the Big Ten schedule, I thought that Illinois was opening up conference play at home against Wisconsin, a proposition that scared me quite a bit. Having cleared up that misunderstanding, I’m not as worried, though the Badgers are always a tough matchup. Illinois will make up for a devastating home loss to Wisconsin that concluded the 2009-2010 Big Ten regular season with a tight victory against Bo Ryan, Jon Leuer and the rest of the Badgers, with the improved Illini depth the biggest difference maker.
Jan. 6 – vs. Northwestern at the Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois won’t need overtime as it did when defeating NU at home to start the 2009-2010 Big Ten regular season, though this game will be tight for a good 30-35 minutes.
Jan. 11 – vs. Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center (L)
After losing 3 straight Big Ten games after starting 4-0 in the conference last season, Illinois got a huge win at Penn State to right the ship, albeit briefly. The Illini will not match last season’s 4-0 conference start as Talor Battle gets the best of Illinois one more time during his spectacular career.
Jan. 15 – vs. Wisconsin at the Kohl Center (L)
Bo (Ryan) knows one thing, and it’s that Illinois is not winning two years in a row at the Kohl Center, despite Bruce Weber’s relatively decent success at this house of horrors.
Jan. 18 – vs. Michigan State at the Assembly Hall (W)
Both teams are deep, but Michigan State is the better team with the more proven track record among its seniors. With that said, I see a season split, with Illinois following last season’s script and taking a close one at home, this time on Super Tuesday.
Jan. 22 – vs. Ohio State at the Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois concludes its difficult three-game stretch against the Buckeyes, which defeated the Illini 3 times last season. With Evan Turner gone and Jarred Sullinger in a Buckeye uniform, Ohio State is now a better matchup for the Illini, which struggled with Thad Matta’s 4-guard attack and 1-3-1 last season. Though it won’t be easy, Illinois will survive at home.
Jan. 27 – vs. Indiana at Indiana’ Assembly Hall (L)
Illinois swept Indiana last season, but could have lost both games. Illinois overcame a 15-point deficit in Bloomington in large part to a huge disparity at the free throw line. That won’t be the case this season, as Indiana gets the calls and Illinois drops the ball against a Hoosiers’ team that is due for a win against the Illini.
Feb. 1 – vs. Penn State at the Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois makes up for the early season upset at Penn State and pounds the Nittany Lions, resting easy that Battle will never again play in Champaign.
Feb. 5 – vs. Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena (W)
Illinois had Northwestern on the ropes last season in Evanston before the Wildcats blitzed them late. A more mature Illinois team will escape the tough Cats this time around.
Feb. 10 – vs. Minnesota at Williams Arena (W)
Illinois lost at home to Minnesota late in the ’09-10 Big Ten season, with this defeat costing the NIT-bound Illini and helping the NCAA-bound Gophers on Selection Sunday. While Illinois will certainly be motivated to exact some revenge, Williams Arena is a tough place to play. With that said, Meyers Leonard will provide a stronger interior presence than Mike Tisdale against the Golden Gophers’ Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, and the Illini will eke out a close victory.
Feb. 13 – vs. Purdue at the Assembly Hall (L)
Following two tough road wins, the Illini will lose a tight contest to the Boilermakers, marking the one and only conference home loss of the season.
Feb. 16 – vs. Michigan at the Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois didn’t play well in its lone game against Michigan last season (a victory in Ann Arbor), but the Illini will put it all together and handle the Wolverines relatively easily following the tough loss to Purdue.
Feb. 19 – vs. Michigan State at the Breslin Center (L)
Illinois and Michigan State battle again on ESPN GameDay, however, this year in East Lansing. Illinois will provide a better effort than it did last year amidst the backdrop of the Izzone, but the Spartans will take this game in the final 10 minutes.
Feb. 22 – vs. Ohio State at Value City Arena (W)
Illinois does something that the 2004-2005 Illini didn’t do: win at Ohio State. Illini seniors (Tisdale, Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Bill Cole) and improved depth will be the key to this shocking victory.
Feb. 26/27 – vs. Iowa at the Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois should have no problem at home against the Hawkeyes as McCaffery tries to rebuild the Iowa program in year one.
March 1 – vs. Purdue at Mackey Arena (L)
Illinois can’t go 3-0 on Super Tuesday, losing another close game to the Boilermakers, despite the fact that Purdue is a great matchup for the Illini and that the teams are so familiar with each other.
March 5/6 – vs. Indiana at Illinois’ Assembly Hall (W)
Illinois gets its revenge, smacking Indiana around following an early season loss to the Hoosiers and thus ensuring a 3-seed in the conference tournament based on the season tie breaker with Ohio State.
As of right now, I have the Illini going 12-6 in the Big Ten and 22-9 entering the Big Ten Tournament.
As for the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois will knock off #6 seed Wisconsin (which will beat Iowa in the first round) in the quarterfinals.
Illinois will then beat #2-seed Purdue in the Big Ten Semifinals before falling to #4 seed Ohio State (which defeats #5 Minnesota and #1 Michigan State in the semifinals) in the conference title game.
Illinois will be 24-10 when the announcements are made on Selection Sunday and get a 5-seed.
The Illini will advance to but lose in the second round, finishing 25-11 and looking like a legitimate Elite Eight/Final Four threat in 2011-2012 with D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey, Richmond, Head, Leonard, and Joseph Bertrand returning and Tracy Abrams, Mycheal Henry, Nnanna Egwu and possibly others coming to Champaign.
Well, that’s my early take on the Illini basketball schedule.
In the coming days, I hope to continue the Illinois Basketball Summer School series, focusing on Richardson.
Topics: Assembly Hall, Big Ten, Big Ten Basketball, Big Ten Conference, Bill Cole, Bo Ryan, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Colton Iverson, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Evan Turner, Fran McCaffery, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Izzone, Jarred Sullinger, Jereme Richmond, Jon Leuer, Joseph Bertrand, Kohl Center, Meyers Leonard, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Mychael Henry, Nnanna Egwu, Ralph Sampson III, Talor Battle, Thad Matta, Tracy Abrams, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois