Tate: For fans' sake, home hoops schedule needs more substance

Tate: For fans' sake, home hoops schedule needs more substance

Matt Painter violated the basketball coach’s handbook. He faces shunning by his colleagues, maybe public stoning.

You see, the Purdue coach scheduled a game at the Ypsilanti home of a midmajor, Eastern Michigan. Worse yet, the Boilermakers lost 47-44 in front of 1,790 onlookers Dec. 8.

OK, Painter wasn’t alone. Ever-daring Tom Izzo took his Michigan State Spartans to Bowling Green, and unbeaten Michigan traveled to Peoria to face Bradley. Falling into this category is Illinois’ payback trip to Gonzaga although, realistically speaking, the Bulldogs shouldn’t be treated as a midmajor any longer.

But the unwritten rule remains. Big Ten teams pay midmajors to serve as visiting sacrificial lambs. The conference’s six ranked teams have gone 50-0 against midmajors this season. And while some of these games have thrilling finishes, devoted fans grumble as they are obliged to purchase these affairs as part of their season ticket package.

Homing in
Understand, by major college standards, the Illini have not played a weak schedule. Their road experiences have been challenging. The wins against Gonzaga and Butler were whoppers, and the Illini rank No. 9 in strength of schedule ... even though seven victims don’t fall within the Top 150.

But you can throw me in with UI fans who cry out for more good home games in November and December.

If Illinois hadn’t received a home game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Georgia Tech), all the pre-January home games would have been against midmajors.

Coach John Groce recognizes the problem. Earlier, in discussing the excitement leading into the Missouri game, he made it clear that every outing can’t be that stressful.

“You know what I’m going to say. Scheduling is really important. We have to balance all that,” he said.

“You look at teams and most of them, maybe not all, have some balance in what they do. They’re not playing 15 Missouri games and 18 BCS power (conference) games. They’re not. We have to balance that.

“Each year is different, too. How young are you? What type of experience do you have? Those things play into our schedule. I like our schedule.”

Tune up while fans tune out
As mentioned, all Big Ten teams have similarities in their scheduling. Indiana got ACC rival North Carolina at home with nine midmajors plus Butler, which no longer falls in that category after joining Xavier and Temple in the 16-team Atlantic 10.

Minnesota played eight midmajors at home. Ohio State plays its eighth Saturday against Chicago State (why; to recover from Kansas?). Iowa hosted Iowa State and nine midmajors, falling to strong Missouri Valley contender Wichita State.

All these Big Ten teams have respectable road tuneups but left their fans wanting at home.

The fault lies with athletic directors who have allowed their basketball coaches, from coast to coast, virtually full power in scheduling their own games. Who can blame coaches for lining up as many victories as possible? It’s human nature. No coach facing a grueling big-conference lineup wants to be the only one scheduling all-tough warmups in December.

Up to the test
Groce expresses understanding for the fans’ dilemma and, in trying to upgrade the home slate, finds himself more limited than most.

Hanging over his head is the possibility, soon to be considered, of the Big Ten going to a 20-game conference schedule when Rutgers and Maryland arrive. That would take 20 of the 28 permitted dates, not counting an exempt tournament, and Groce would be locked into 24 of the 28 slots with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, games in St. Louis and Chicago, and the latter requiring a payback (at UNLV next season).

Furthermore, in trying to alternate a home-and-road deal with a major foe, Groce is troubled by the fact he doesn’t know which years the Illini will have home games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Preparing for Saturday’s date against Auburn in Chicago, Groce said:

“I hope we’re battle tested. We’ve played two road games in tough environments (Gonzaga and Missouri) with really good crowds. We have had the Maui tournament against good competition, and we played Georgia Tech at home.

“We’ve had to prepare for more different styles, maybe more so than with any team I’ve faced as an assistant or head coach. We’ve seen just about everything ... zones, zone presses, fullcourt man, running and jumping, trapping, man, switching. We’ve seen all kinds of stuff.”

He is right. This Illinois team has been tested. But all Illini fans can’t travel. And after a 10-year stretch in which 66 of 69 scheduled home games came against midmajors (discounting five Big Ten/ACC Challenges arranged by the conferences), you can’t blame fans for wanting more. It would be a short trip for Butler or Kentucky or Louisville or Cincinnati or Marquette or Notre Dame or, if it isn’t too distant, Kansas in a home-road exchange.

Not all at once, but just one of them occasionally HERE would be nice.

Imagine the buzz, the excitement. Just one ... occasionally. Here.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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PortlandIllini wrote on December 27, 2012 at 1:12 am


I suspect that Loren is verbalizing his own desires, and not expressing the views of a majority of the fans.     Have you ever taken a look at Kansas's or Syracuse's schedule?  They play essentially  all of their non-conference games either at home or in tournaments.  I don't hear waves of complaints about the quality of their home games.

Mr Tate says the same blessed thing about the football home schedule. "why can't the Illini schedule tough opponents at home?":   It's because the coaches want to have winning records: that's how it's done.

The reality is that Mr Tate is not an Illini fan:  he is a paid Illini sports writer.  What he really wants is for a good storyline.  And if he doesn't have to travel, well, that's all the better.


SKS3777 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for your comments!

read the DI wrote on December 27, 2012 at 7:12 am

The anxiety comes from not knowing whether you can beat the good teams. So perhaps if the Illini played better competition more often, then the "big" games wouldn't be so stressful.


LoyalIllini wrote on December 27, 2012 at 7:12 am

Not sure the body forms and mannequins in section A could take more excitement from tougher opponents early on.

Illini1973 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 8:12 am
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Objective: Get invited to the Big Dance.  Solution: Need 20 Ws (no bad Ls) and .500 in conference, so do the math.

DoubleR13 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

You actually need some good wins too (not just no bad losses) and 20 wins is a thing of the past.  You need to play a good, tough, and balanced schedule.  Plus, the more good teams you schedule early on the better for your team down the road in my opinion.  The Illini should absolutely be scheduling 1-2 "better" opponents in a home and home type of deal.  Every legitimate top 15 program is playing at least one, if not more, top 15 teams in November/December outside of made-for-tv events (acc-big ten challenge). 

Asking for 20 wins and a .500 conference record every year couldn't be setting any lower expectations for this program.  

Illini1973 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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You need to crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

JohnUI82 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Tell that to Virginia Tech, which won 20+ games and finished better than .500 (10-6, 9-7) in the ACC in 2009-10 and 2010-11 and went to the NIT both seasons.

acylum wrote on December 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

The NIT is now owned by the NCAA instead of the clan of thugs who used to own it.  It benefits the NCAA to create two tournements that can sell seats and tv advertising.  You have to decide between Virginia Tech with those creds, and a mid major who are both on the bubble.  Either team likely doesn't make it past the 2nd round in the big dance.  You put the bigger name in the NIT and hope they advance to New York.  NCAA would rather have Virginia tech over Sothern Illinois when it comes to the NIT semis and Finals. 

a fews back, the NCAA would put the bigger names in the big dance and leave everyone else to the NIT, as they wanted more of the bigger programs in their single tournament.  Now they can manipulate the two tourneys to pay off, by putting programs with fans to bolster the NIT, and creating no loss games for the big dance.  By no loss I mean, you get chances for a midmajor upset, or you get a big name with a potential walk to the sweet 16.

1 illinifan wrote on December 27, 2012 at 9:12 am

I agree, we need better home games. Playing wimpy teams is not going to help us in the long run, sure we would get a few wins, slide into the tourney only to loose the first game. If we are going to be at the top of the Big Ten and the country then we need to sharpen on more quality opponents. Not all of the games but more, this will raise the bar and expectations. I mean really, why aren't the expectations already this high anyway, after all we are Illinois.


This group has been under Weber too long, so of course they are going to be nervous. The new groups not so much because Groce will have them from the beginning.

lmaran wrote on December 27, 2012 at 10:12 am

As an Illini fan I have never voiced my opinion to Loren; I wonder how other fans get to do that; or is he self-appointed representative?


Illini Drumline Guy wrote on December 27, 2012 at 10:12 am

Illini 1973....you are 100% correct.....the goal is to get into the NCAA tourney and be playing well at that time...you need 20 wins to get in....the Big Ten is a tough conveference so it is hard getting 10 to 12 wins in that league...you need non conference to 1. get some wins, and 2. get your team and incoming players used to playing together...this is not the Horizon Leauge, or MVC, or A 10....every night is a battle.....a coach who schedules a ton of hard on conference games is making it harder on the team to have a successful season. ACC challenge and the Mizzou game is enough. We would all be complaining if we had a great non conference schedle and went 5-5....then ended up missing the NCAA....

One game with Kansas here would be great, but requires one game the following year at Kansas which is a disaster.

JohnUI82 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

"a coach who schedules a ton of hard on [sic] conference games is making it harder on the team to have a successful season." You mean a coach like Tom Izzo? His teams have had a few successful seasons despite always playing a few high majors, including UConn, Kansas and Texas this season in addition to the ACC Challenge.

"One game with Kansas here would be great, but requires one game the following year at Kansas which is a disaster." So you advocate scheduling scared? The selection committee considers strength of schedule, not just record.


kzimmer001 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

It's a challenge but if the Illini can find another one or two series' like they had with Gonzaga -- (Seattle, Chicago, Champaign, Spokane) -- this would help solve two problems - quality opponents in the United Center and at Assembly Hall. 

I don't know how many schools are willing to schedule a home and a semi-home, but it seems like you can find one or two of the ACC, Big East, PAC, B12 and SEC teams (e.g. play Florida in Orlando, Gainesville,Chicago and Champaign).    

SKS3777 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Loren Tate gives me hives.  He's a self-appointed speaker for Illinination?  I don't think so!  I don't even read his stuff anymore because he's such a nut.

Jim in Blm-Normal wrote on December 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

As usual no thoughts, just snarky comments at Loren Tate.

As someone who spends the grand and sits in the seats, both my friend and i agree with Loren.    We've held tickets for about 15 and 20 years, and we are both thinking of dumping them next year.

Other than Georgia Tech, there wasn't a single game in the Hall that i cared to see.  I notice the critics mention games in the United Center.   That's nice, but those games are not in my ticket package.   If the good games are all played in Chicago or St Louis, why do i need to part with nearly a thousand dollars and drive through occasionally tough weather.

Secondly, there was not a single out of conference game played on a Saturday.   While i like football less and certainly Illinois football, I will keep those tickets because i want to go to games on Saturdays.

Examine the quality of the opponents, the dates and starting times.   It's clear that the schedule has been made for the benefit of the television watchers.   Well, my friend and i have televisions too.

I bought these tickets years ago and held them solely to support the University.   While i have asked nothing in return, there does come a time when i expect something other than a constant slap in the face.

Loren is right.  You people who never leave your living rooms just don't understand.  If you disagree, you can apply for my tickets next year.

JohnUI82 wrote on December 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

If Chicago State is a midmajor, I wonder what Loren considers to be a low major.

jturner wrote on December 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

A very thoughtful, rational comment by Jim.  The DIA/coaches can't have it both ways.  If they want the seats full they must consider the quality of the game and the time of the game.  Otherwise, they get whomever shows up. If TV drives the bus, then so be it.  I don't know that Loren expects the schedule to be of the mold of when Izzo went off the deep end, but more than one game against a recognizable national/regional program or at least a couple of saturday games would be an improvement.

Moonpie wrote on December 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

He's definitely self-appointed, is Oracle Tate. The head cheerleader.

I think I hear illinihimey coming...

bernies wrote on December 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Loren said: "Indiana got ACC rival North Carolina at home with nine midmajors plus Butler".

I might be misreading that, but it seems to imply that Butler played IU in Bloomington. Not so. They played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy, one of those so-called neutral sites.

calvin wrote on December 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm

they still need to play at least one of the Illinois directional schools per season......and maybe two..........keep the money in the state and it drives up interest around the state in the state program.........there are seven? other state basketball programs, so play them on a four year rotation.......good for everybody.

agree with Jim above.......schedule is beyond boring, don't even mind when I miss most of those games, which I do because they're not on regular TV or cable............

jjohnson wrote on December 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I agree with Loren, with Jim, and a few others, but would like to emphasize that the NCAA, Big Ten, Illinois and its partners long ago sold their souls to the devil -- TV. I travel a very long distance to attend football games, yet do not know until 12 days or less beforehand what time the game will be and whether I'll have to stay overnigtr 1 night or 2 to see the game; there are basically NO Saturday afternoon basketball games, which makes my tickets essentially useless to me (but like others, I support and hate to give up). 

I do not know how many who write comments only see games on TV, which may be why they think themselves such experts, but we the paying attendees are now merely props for the TV cameras to scan.

But back to schedules. Considering that a goodly number of ticket holders probably do live in the Chicago area, I know that when I did so, I had to question the worth of driving on a December night to see the Illini play The School for the Visually Impaired or University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. These are practices.

CecilColeman wrote on December 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Bruce Weber says he coached not to lose. Obviously he scheduled "not to lose" as well. Groce is a refreshing change.

What a shame the annual United Center game cannot be against Marquette every year (just like the Mizzou game in St. Louis).  Or against Notre Dame (as in years ago in the old Chicago Stadium doubleheaders - - the Illini - ND match up was an annual event).