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Breaking Down The 2019-’20 Illinois Schedule

What are the Illini up against this season?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Day Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

It is a potential breakout year for the Illini as Brad Underwood’s crew has the talent and experience to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Still, the Illini are entering uncharted waters and must prove they can thrive under the weight of some expectations. The schedule they will be taking on presents some challenges as well. Let’s take a look at what Illinois will be up against this season.

The Illini’s 2019-’20 Schedule

  • 11/5 - Nicholls State
  • 11/8 - at Grand Canyon
  • 11/10 - at Arizona
  • 11/18 - Hawaii
  • 11/20 - The Citadel
  • 11/23 - Hampton
  • 11/26 - Lindenwood
  • 12/2 - Miami (FL)
  • 12/7 - at Maryland
  • 12/11 - Michigan
  • 12/14 - Old Dominion
  • 12/21 - Missouri (St. Louis, MO)
  • 12/29 - North Carolina A&T
  • 1/2 - at Michigan State
  • 1/5 - Purdue
  • 1/8 - at Wisconsin
  • 1/11 - Rutgers
  • 1/18 - Northwestern
  • 1/21 - at Purdue
  • 1/25 - at Michigan
  • 1/30 - Minnesota
  • 2/2 - at Iowa
  • 2/7 - Maryland
  • 2/11 - Michigan State
  • 2/15 - at Rutgers
  • 2/18 - at Penn State
  • 2/24 - Nebraska
  • 2/27 - at Northwestern
  • 3/1 - Indiana
  • 3/4 - at Ohio State
  • 3/8 - Iowa

Non-Conference Breakdown

A Trip Out West

The Illini don’t play in the Gavitt Games this season, but do make an intriguing trip out west to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats.

This is the start of a home-and-home series between the Illini and Wildcats. And while Deron Williams isn’t walking through that door, it’s fun to see both programs embracing and celebrating its history.

This year’s contest finds both teams pretty even from a preseason analytics standpoint. KenPom has the Wildcats 24th in the country and Illinois 35th. T-Rank has the Illini at 14th in the country and Arizona 32nd.

This should be a fun one from Tucson. Both teams project well analytically, have something to prove this season, and

For Illinois to compete and come out with a potential victory, they will need to shut down the senior combo of 6-foot-10 Chase Jeter and 6-foot-7 Stone Gettings. Jeter could average somewhere in the ballpark of 15 and 8 this season, and Gettings will flirt with 40 percent from three-point range this season. Take a look at some highlights of Jeter in a game against Alabama last season.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge

The Illini welcome the Miami Hurricanes to Champaign in the latest edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Hurricanes project to be a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad this season. KenPom has them currently at 65 while T-Rank puts them at 56th.

It will be interesting to watch the tempo in this matchup. Miami, under Jim Larranaga, plays at a slower pace than most ACC schools. Illinois will want to push the ball on offense and get in your face on defense. Their best player and main ball handler, 5-foot-7 Chris Lykes, struggled with nearly three turnovers a game last season. Could that equate to some transition opportunities for Ayo Dosunmu and company?

Illinois has some expectations they need to meet in this one. This is a Power 6 squad coming into Champaign that stands around a 25 percent chance to pull off a victory. If Illinois wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament, they need this one.

Sneaky Mid-Major Game

One to look out for here is another trip to Arizona on November 5th. The Illini will take on Grand Canyon Antelopes in one of the tougher atmospheres in all of college basketball.

It’s guaranteed to be rocking for a B10 opponent, and the Antelopes project to be pretty good too. They finished 20-14 last season with close neutral-site losses to Seton Hall (75-82) and Utah (66-75). This season they are currently 145th on KenPom and 139th on T-Rank.

The Illini need to be careful with this one. They can ill afford to pick up a Quad 3 loss two games into the season.

Conference Breakdown

Toughest Stretch

  • 12/7 - at Maryland
  • 12/11 - Michigan
  • 1/2 - at Michigan State
  • 1/5 - Purdue
  • 1/8 - at Wisconsin

Three non-conference games break up this stretch, but this is what Illinois is up against over its first five games in conference play. Using KenPom’s metrics, that four out of five games against teams in the top-20. Wisconsin is no slouch either at 45 - and it’s on the road in one of the Big Ten’s toughest buildings. Brutal.

If the Illini can get through this gauntlet relatively unscathed there are some opportunities to gain some ground back. The Illini finish with five out of their last seven against teams that are KenPom Top-40 and below.

This beginning stretch is not something Illinois wants to go 1-4 in, but here’s guessing Brad Underwood would take 2-3.

Best Chance For An Upset

Could history repeat itself against Michigan State? Last year the Illini knocked off Michigan State at home on a Tuesday in February. This year Illinois squares off at home against Michigan State on Tuesday, February 11th.

Getting a win here would be huge for the Illini NCAA Tournament portfolio. KenPom currently puts them at a 29 percent chance for a victory. Not the greatest odds, but they were lower last season. Should be an interesting chance for Illinois.

Road Game To Watch Out For

Things can always get tricky with road rivalry games. Northwestern this season will most likely not be a good team this season. They welcome Illinois on February 27th to Evanston in the thick of the stretch run in Big Ten play.

Expect this one to be a dog fight. Last season Northwestern and Illinois played three times with all three decided by five points or less. Illinois currently has a tenuous 60 percent chance of coming out of Welsh-Ryan with a victory. Should be a good one.

Overall Outlook

Overall, the non-conference slate isn’t too daunting. Two tough trips to Arizona against the Arizona Wildcats and Grand Canyon Antelopes. It’s okay should the Illini drop one to the Wildcats, but taking on a Quad III loss to the Antelopes would be tough so early in the season.

Additional Power 6 games against Miami and Missouri offer the Illini some cracks at solid non-conference wins.

The Big Ten schedule begins with a brutal stretch against five of the conference’s best teams. A 2-3 start would be okay out of this, but the Illini will not have much room for error in a more manageable final seven games.

This feels like a team that will be on both sides of the bubble all season. Having some nice wins at home and playing well down the stretch would go a long way to allowing the Illini to get back to the NCAA Tournament.