2024-25 Illinois basketball non-conference is going to be a fun test

I believe in iron sharpens iron, and the Illinois basketball team is taking that mentality into the 2024-25 non-conference
IUPUI v Illinois
IUPUI v Illinois / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and that is the Illinois basketball mentality under Brad Underwood.

It is always fun seeing a ton of wins in the non-conference, but that early success doesn’t always translate into a good season. The Illini have had cakewalk non-conference schedules in the past, and after we go 10-3, we flounder our way to a 20-15 record and miss the postseason.

Underwood hasn’t been that type of coach. We aren’t looking for the easy way out in the non-conference.

We have now been through seven seasons with Underwood as our head coach, which seems kind of crazy. Sports Reference CBB has the strength of schedule for the last 75 seasons of Illinois basketball. In the seven seasons Underwood has coached, he has five seasons among the top 20 toughest for the Illini. Two of those seasons rank in the top six toughest in the last 75 seasons as well.

I love the mentality that iron sharpens iron. This past Thursday, that mentality continued to get stronger, as numerous outlets reported that Illinois will play Arkansas in the 2024-25 non-conference. According to Brad Sturdy of IlliniGuys.com, the game will follow the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day game on CBS.

First off, I got goosebumps typing that. My two favorite teams back-to-back on Thanksgiving? Yes, please.

Secondly, what a massive game to schedule. There are numerous reasons why this is a big game with the biggest reason in my eyes being the Orlando Antigua effect. John Calipari left Kentucky to coach Arkansas. Calipari signed Antigua away from Illinois a few years ago. Illinois signed him back when Coach Cal left for the Razorbacks. That game is going to be exciting.

The Illinois basketball non-conference in 2024-25 is going to be thrilling to watch with such tough competition

Arkansas isn’t the only hard game Illinois will have to deal with in the non-conference this upcoming season. Let’s go over some of the non-conference opponents.

Illinois vs. Duke (at Madison Square Garden on TBD)

The Illini will take on the Blue Devils in New York City. Duke is coming off a 27-9 season where they advanced to the Elite 8. While they are losing talent to the NBA, the Blue Devils are reloading with the No. 1 class in 2024.

Illinois vs. Alabama (in Birmingham on November 20)

Going up against Alabama might be the toughest test for the Illini this non-conference. The Crimson Tide are coming off a 25-win campaign and a trip to the Final 4. They are recruiting at an incredibly high level as well. Alabama enters next season with the No. 2 recruiting class in the country.

Illinois vs. Arkansas (in Kansas City on November 28)

This Thanksgiving Day game is going to be fun to watch. While Arkansas didn’t have a good team last season, they are a completely different unit this time around. Coach Cal is bringing the No. 3 class in 2024 with him, which includes numerous transfers from Kentucky and around the country.

Illinois vs. Tennessee (in Champaign on December 14)

Tennessee is always a tough team to match up against. The Volunteers might not have the best recruiting class coming in for 2024, but they are always good. This past season, Tennessee not only beat Illinois, but they finished with 27 wins and made it all the way to the Elite 8.

Illinois vs. Missouri (in St. Louis on December 22)

I think this might be the best Missouri team we have seen in a while. The 2023-24 rendition was awful, as they won just eight games, and Illinois beat the Tigers by 24 points. Missouri is bringing in the No. 12 class in the country in 2024. This includes four four-star freshmen and four four-star transfer portal recruits. They should have a solid team next season.

dark. Next. Projected Illinois basketball lineup after the commitment of Will Riley. Projected Illinois basketball lineup after the commitment of Will Riley