Finalizing a college basketball schedule for the 2020-21 will likely take some sort of dark magic. Turns out playing in a pandemic outside a solitary bubble is going to be tricky. Here’s the 10 best teams Illinois has never played that would make for an interesting opponent, courtesy beat writer Scott Richey:
The Cavaliers, of course, are still the reigning national champions since last season’s tournament wasn’t played. That team was the most exciting Tony Bennett’s maybe ever had. This year’s team? Considerably less flash, but always a serious challenge.
2. Texas Tech
Quite the coincidence that Illinois has never played the last two teams to square off for an NCAA title. Chris Beard has pushed Texas Tech to another level in just four seasons and continues to hit in recruiting (like Nimari Burnett) and on transfers (like Mac McClung).
3. Mississippi State
Mississippi State and Boston College (not included on this list because … not too exciting) are the only other power programs Illinois has yet to face in more than a century of basketball. The current Bulldogs, though, were decimated by NBA draft early entrants this offseason.
The America East Conference essentially belongs to the Catamounts. Vermont has won four straight America East regular season titles and six of the last 10. That John Becker, who hasn’t won fewer than 20 games in his nine seasons in charge, hasn’t been poached yet is amazing.
Illinois vanquished the “Hilton Magic” in the early days of Iowa State’s home venue. Might as well take a shot at “Moody Magic” in Dallas, too. While Tim Jankovich hasn’t yet replicated Larry Brown’s success at SMU, the Mustangs remain a competitive program.
6. Stephen F. Austin
Have the Lumberjacks won quite as frequently since Brad Underwood left following the 2015-16 season? No, but Kyle Keller had Stephen F. Austin rolling last season to a 28-3 mark that included a road win at Duke. Underwood vs. SFA would just be interesting.
7. Rhode Island
Don’t knock the Atlantic-10. There’s some legit teams at the top of the conference, including Rhode Island. David Cox has maintained a fairly high level of success after Dan Hurley’s departure to UConn, and a slew of transfer waivers this year makes the Rams dangerous.
No, Steph Curry isn’t walking through the door. But Davidson — another A-10 program — still wins a lot of games under Bob McKillop. Last season was a bit of a disappointment, but a Kellan Grady-led veteran team should keep the Wildcats competitive in the A-10 title hunt.
Ritchie McKay’s second run as Liberty’s coach has been a successful one. The Flames’ move to the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2018-19 has been followed by 59 wins during the past two seasons. Graduation hurt this offseason, but Liberty has become a for real mid-major.
10. UNC Greensboro
Wes Miller has coached at UNC Greensboro since the 2011-12 season, and the future coach in Chapel Hill — you read it here first — is still somehow only 37 years old. The Spartans have won at least 23 games in each of the past four seasons.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).