Big Ten releases Illinois’ 2012-13 basketball schedule

The schedule for John Groce’s first season as Illini basketball head coach is finally complete.

The Big Ten released its conference slate Thursday, finalizing Illinois’ schedule after the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced the team’s nonconference schedule on Wednesday. The Illini will play between 13 and 15 games against teams that made 2012 NCAA Tournament and 18 games — 16 regular season and two exhibition — at Assembly Hall in front of their home fans.

“The journey of November and December gives us the opportunity to be prepared for what will be an extremely competitive Big Ten race,” Groce said in a statement released by the program. “There have been as many as six teams ranked in various preseason polls, and with the tremendous players, coaches and home court environments that exist across this league, we will be challenged at the highest level throughout the conference season.”

The Illini open their schedule on Oct. 22 with the annual Orange and Blue scrimmage, which will come just 10 days after the start of practice. Lewis and West Chester then travel to Assembly Hall for two exhibition games before Illinois starts the regular season on Nov. 9 at home against Colgate.

After just two tune-up games at home, Groce will take his team to Hawaii on a four-game trip, which includes a game in Honolulu to face the Warriors and three games in the Maui Invitational, where Illinois will join USC, North Carolina, Mississippi State, Marquette, Butler, Texas and Chaminade. The Illini face USC in the first round of the tournament on Nov. 19, followed by Texas or Chaminade in the second round the next day.

Once the tournament is over, Illinois will close out its nonconference schedule with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Georgia Tech on Nov. 28 and notable matchups against Gonzaga, Missouri and Auburn throughout December.

“We have a challenging schedule this season where our team will be tested early and often,” Groce said. “Our nonconference includes every situation imaginable, when you look at playing in the Maui Invitational with an outstanding field, true road games at Gonzaga and Hawaii, games against BCS opponents Missouri, Georgia Tech and Auburn and a number of home games against quality teams.”

Illinois opens conference play on the road against Purdue on Jan. 2, starting a stretch of 18 consecutive games against Big Ten teams before heading into the conference tournament.

The Illini will play home and away games against Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and the Boilermakers, but neither Michigan State nor Iowa will travel to Champaign.

Illinois, however, won’t have to go to Bloomington to play Indiana, as it only faces the Hoosiers and Penn State at home.

Ethan can be reached at [email protected]