Big Ten releases men’s basketball schedule

Members of the Orange Krush cheer at the game against Indiana at Assembly Hall on Jan. 23, 2007. Erica Magda

Members of the Orange Krush cheer at the game against Indiana at Assembly Hall on Jan. 23, 2007. Erica Magda

By Jeremy Werner

After weeks of delay, the Big Ten released its men’s basketball schedule. The Illini might want the schedule-makers to spend some more time reworking it, though.

Illinois opens its Big Ten season at Purdue on Dec. 30. Led by mostly underclassmen, the Boilermakers finished with a 15-3 conference record and 25-9 overall record last season. With leading scorers Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore returning for their sophomore seasons, Purdue enters the season as one the nation’s elite.

“I try not to look too far ahead,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “I know our (conference) opener is at Purdue in the Big Ten. They’re going to be one of the favorites, and it won’t be easy. But you got to play everybody sometime.”

The Illini will play every Big Ten team twice, except for Iowa and Northwestern. The Wildcats finished last in the conference last season, while the Hawkeyes finished eighth.

Illinois hosts the annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage and two exhibition games before opening the regular season on Nov. 14 at Assembly Hall against Eastern Washington. But the Illini will not have it easy for too long, as they travel to Vanderbilt, an NCAA tournament team last season, on Nov. 20.

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“They’re coming off one of their best seasons in Vanderbilt history,” Weber said. “(Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings) has really got it going pretty well, so it will not be easy. But it also gives us direction, where we’re at. If you’re going to be successful, you got to learn to play against top teams and win on the road, and that’s what we’re looking for with that game.”

Other probable tests for Illinois in nonconference play include Kent State, a 2008 NCAA Tournament team, and either Texas A&M; and Tulsa in the final round of the South Padre Island Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend.

The Illini host Clemson as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2 and play two neutral-site games – against Georgia (Dec. 6) at the United Center in Chicago and against Missouri (Dec. 23) at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

“(The nonconference schedule) gives us a mix of some tournament teams, some games hopefully we can have success in and develop our team and give us a challenge so we’re ready for the Big Ten,” Weber said.

Opening the Big Ten season against Purdue and playing Iowa and Northwestern once apiece isn’t what Weber was wishing for, but he said complaining about the schedule at this point won’t do any good.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever totally satisfied with (the schedule),” Weber said. “I’m sure the Big Ten is probably getting a bunch of different calls from different people. I’ve just gotten to the point where you can look at it and get mad at it, and then you just put it down and worry about it game-by-game.”