Illini events under the lights in 2018-19

Illini events under the lights in 2018-19

Sure, track still has a meet left. But as we see it, the Illini's 2017-18 season was put to bed when baseball and golf bowed out over the weekend. So let's look ahead to what surely will be a better season, as beat writer SCOTT RICHEY offers 10 events Illinois fans can anticipate for 2018-19:

With the (__) overall pick

The Illinois baseball season ended rather abruptly when the Illini were left out of the NCAA tournament field once it was unveiled Monday despite wins against multiple tournament teams and a strong résumé. Next week's MLB Draft that runs June 4-6 should turn out better for a pair of likely top-10-round draft picks in first baseman Bren Spillane and closer Joey Gerber.

Break out formal wear

The inaugural Hall of Fame class at Illinois saw 28 former Illini first honored in a gala at Chicago's Field Museum last June. This year's class — headlined by all-time winningest basketball coach Lou Henson — will get the same treatment on June 15 back in Chicago at the same venue. Other notable inductees include Nancy Brookhart Cherin, Dave Downey, Kendall Gill and Jim Grabowski.

Stuff Huff

Chris Tamas guided Illinois volleyball to a Sweet 16 appearance last fall in his first season as coach, getting plenty of help from AVCA third-team All-Americans Ali Bastianelli and Jordyn Poulter, who are both back to anchor Illinois in 2018. The annual Illini Classic, scheduled for Sept. 14-15, will mark Illinois' home opener. In the field are Creighton, Northern Iowa and Lipscomb.

Friday night lights

Weekday primetime football is here to stay in the Big Ten, and Illinois will play a Friday night game under the Memorial Stadium lights for the second straight season when it squares off against Penn State when James Franklin's Nittany Lions visit on Sept. 21. The Illini played a pair of Friday night games in 2017 — losing 47-32 at South Florida and 28-6 at home to Nebraska.

Homecoming win?

The Oct. 13 homecoming football game with Purdue could be pivotal for Lovie Smith in moving closer to bowl eligibility. The Illini have winnable games before the Boilermakers hit C-U. Actually winning them — and maybe beating Purdue — will help when the schedule toughens up in the second half of the season as Illinois tries to win its first homecoming game since '14.

Aloha, Illini

The last time Illinois played in the Maui Invitational, John Groce's first team beat USC, Chaminade and Butler in 2012 to win its first title in Hawaii. Brad Underwood's second team will face the toughest Maui field of all time. The bracket has yet to be announced, but the Illini could see the likes of Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona or Xavier at the three-day tournament from Nov. 19-21.

St. Louis showdown

After several seasons of diminishing returns in the stands, nearly 22,000 fans saw Illinois beat Missouri for a fifth straight time last season right before Christmas in downtown St. Louis. The former Illini on the Tigers' roster add a level to the rivalry. So does Underwood and Cuonzo Martin recruiting almost all the same St. Louis-area recruits. Braggin' Rights is back.

Rugged home slate

Four returning NCAA qualifiers — Mike Carr, Dylan Duncan, Emery Parker and Travis Piotrowski — will be necessary for Illinois wrestling to handle a tough Big Ten slate next season, especially with Isaiah Martinez out of eligibility. Headed to Huff Hall will be defending national champs Penn State, defending Big Ten champs Ohio State, perennial power Iowa and Minnesota.

Sweet home Chicago

The Big Ten sent its men's basketball tournament east the last two seasons to mixed reviews. Playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City was seen as a hit in 2018. The Washington, D.C., stop in 2017? Not as much. The tournament will return home to Chicago's United Center next season and in 2021, with Indianapolis hosting in 2020 and 2022.

Home advantage

Illinois men's gymnastics parlayed a Big Ten championship into a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Chicago this past April. The Illini — led by defending rings champion Alex Diab — will have plenty of motivation to get back to that level in 2019 given the NCAA Championships will be held in Champaign at State Farm Center for the first time since 2004.

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