We are just under three months until the Illinois basketball team takes the court for their first exhibition game of the season.
This is an exciting time to be an Illini fan. Brad Underwood has the Orange and Blue competitive again, and after losing some key players the last couple of years, the coaching staff reloaded with great talent.
It might take a game or two for Illinois to really gel on the basketball court, though. The non-conference slate is where we need to figure things out as far as chemistry goes. On Thursday, Illinois revealed the non-conference schedule.
The Illinois basketball non-conference doesn’t look too daunting.
The first game of the season is an exhibition against Quincy. This is a tune-up game to get prepared for contests that actually matter for the record.
I love the fact that the first three games of the non-conference are fairly easy contests. Illinois will take on Eastern Illinois on November 7, Kansas City on November 11, and Monmouth on November 14. As I said earlier, I think we will need some time to gel, and these games give us that time.
Illinois will then get their first true test of the year in the Continental Tire Main Event. The first game is against UCLA on November 18, and then we play either Baylor or Virginia on November 20. A part of me hopes it is Baylor because of the Matthew Mayer and Dain Dainja dynamic of them being former Bears.
Scheduling Lindenwood as the next game on November 25 is smart. This gives Illinois the chance to correct things that were noticed against elite competition from the Continental Tire Main Event. Underwood can do some adjustments in this game, and it will work as a tune-up for the rest of the season.
The next couple of games will then be tough tests. Illinois welcomes in Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on November 29. We then follow that game up with Texas at Madison Square Garden for the Jimmy V Classic on December 6.
I am excited for this stretch of games because they will test us to see where we are as a program as we creep closer to the Big Ten season. I feel like the Illini should have gelled by this point, so we should be playing some good basketball.
Alabama A&M comes to Champaign on December 17. The next game is the Braggin’ Rights matchup against Missouri on December 22. And then Illinois finishes the non-conference with Bethune-Cookman on December 29. All three of these games should be victories.
Illinois basketball prediction
Honestly, I love this non-conference slate. There aren’t a ton of tough games, but there are a handful of testers to see what we are made of early on in the season.
I have Illinois winning the first three against cupcake opponents. We might drop one of the two in the Continental Tire Main Event. That puts our record at 4-1. Lindenwood should be easy. I will say we drop either one of the Syracuse or Texas games. That puts us at 6-2. I think Illinois can win the final three games of the non-conference, which puts us at 9-2 heading into the Big Ten schedule.
Going 9-2 should be the worst-case scenario for the Illini, which is a pretty high floor. I believe we could easily finish 10-1 or even 11-0 depending on how quickly this team comes together. But there is one thing I am pretty certain of. Illinois basketball will be good this season.