Future college basketball scheduling could take on a more regional approach in response to financial restraints created by the current pandemic. Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY took a look at 12 teams within a 200-mile radius of Champaign that Illinois could schedule:
Illinois thumped Bradley in the last meeting between the two teams — an 81-55 victory in 2013 in Champaign. The Braves seem to be on the come-up under coach Brian Wardle, though, with three straight 20-win seasons and what would have been a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this year.
The Illini could well match up with the Bulldogs in the Gavitt Games. Maybe even this coming season, which would be the first game between the Bulldogs and the Illini since the 2012 Maui Invitational. Every team hopes for a home game, but a trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis wouldn’t be so bad.
The 2017 Gavitt Games marked the first time Illinois and DePaul played in 60 years after at least semi-regular games from the mid 1930s to late 1950s. The Blue Demons might still be struggling in the Big East, but coach Dave Leitao continues to add talented players.
Good thing, for Illinois at least, that its last matchup with EIU didn’t count. The Panthers came out on top in a charity exhibition game in Charleston before Brad Underwood’s first season as Illini coach started in 2017. The last game that did count against EIU came in 2002, which the Illini won 93-53.
The Purple Aces out of the Missouri Valley Conference would probably wind up further down any potential scheduling list considering they played in Champaign in November 2018. That was also the only time the Illini have ever played Evansville, which doubled as Ayo Dosunmu’s Illini debut.
A UIC team led by new coach Luke Yaklich might make for an interesting opponent. Yaklich knows the Big Ten from his time on John Beilein’s staff at Michigan, and he knows the state after being a high school coach and assistant coach at Illinois State. Oh, and Dee Brown’s on his staff.
The Illini and Redbirds last played in 2011 in Cancun. The last time they met, in Champaign, of course, Marcus Arnold nearly led ISU to an upset win against his future school. The idea of “no real upside” to scheduling an in-state foe might go out the window post-pandemic.
Illinois hasn’t played Louisville since beating the Cardinals during the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. While a rematch might happen anyway in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the type of home-and-home the Illini worked out with Arizona could work just as well in a more regional approach.
The last time Illinois played Marquette (1993), the Golden Eagles were still the Warriors. Again, this could wind up a Gavitt Games showdown, but, if not, the Illini have some work to do in this wildly intermittent matchup. Marquette has won five of the last seven dating back to 1958.
At least part of the city of Milwaukee is within the 200-mile radius, so even if the Panthers’ campus isn’t, this matchup still counts. Illinois hasn’t played Milwaukee, coached then by Bruce Pearl, since the 2005 Sweet 16 and only twice before that. Wouldn’t hurt to have a solid mid-major on the schedule.
Illinois plays in St. Louis on a regular basis with the Braggin’ Rights game, but the Illini haven’t played against Saint Louis since 1998. It would make for an interesting matchup considering Underwood followed Billikens’ coach Travis Ford at Oklahoma State.
Fans in Carbondale are optimistic about the Bryan Mullins era at SIU. The Salukis went 16-16 in his first season after a rough finish that followed a seven-game winning MVC winning streak. Illinois hasn’t played SIU since 2010, but the Salukis would be another potentially strong mid-major to schedule.