By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) The Illinois football season begins in just two days, but right now I have Illini basketball on my mind.
(That probably tells you everything you need to know about my excitement level for Tim Beckman’s latest pigskin product).
On Wednesday, Illinois officially released its basketball schedule for the 2013-14 season. It offers a wealth of interesting plotlines, and I thought I’d share my thoughts about five of them today.
Hey, anything to keep my mind off football, ya know?
UIC at the UC?
As part of a longstanding contractual agreement within the greater university of Illinois umbrella, the Illini are required to play UIC in Chicago once every three years.
But why is this a long-term contract? And exactly who agreed to it?
On Dec. 28, the Illini and Flames will face off again at the United Center. I really don’t have a problem with Illinois playing UIC once every three years, but I do have a problem with the game needing to be in Chicago – and gobbling up a United Center date.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas needs to find a way to wriggle his way out of that contract. If Illinois and UIC really must play once every three years, the game should rotate between Chicago and Champaign.
That way, Illinois is only locked into a UC game against an undesirable opponent – no offense, Flames – at the UC once every six years.
Illinois simply can’t elevate its presence in the Windy City when it plays only one game there – especially when it’s against mid-major UIC.
In-state is great … or good, at least
Again, I have nothing against UIC – or against Illinois playing games against in-state schools. In fact, I’d like to see the Illini do so more often (just not in Chicago).
Bradley, which Illinois will host on Nov. 17, looks to be a fun game, for example. Chicago State, which Illinois will host on Nov. 22, looks to, well, be less so.
But I’d like to see Illinois play at least one game against the group of SIU, EIU, NIU, ISU or Bradley each season. The Illini don’t have a great deal to gain by scheduling such games, but those opponents are considerably more interesting for fans than games against the likes of Alabama State or IPFW.
Road warriors – and worriers
With nonconference games against UNLV in Las Vegas, Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Auburn in Atlanta, Oregon in Portland, Missouri in St. Louis and UIC in Chicago, the Illini have a rough schedule leading up to the Big Ten season.
Interesting, but rough. And, unfortunately, not terribly interesting for the students and fans in Champaign, who don’t get to see any of this season’s marquee nonconference games at the State Farm Center. It’s tricky, I know, but John Groce needs to find a way to beef up the Illini’s home schedule in future season – both for the fans, and for the team.
Pop the cork on IU
Illinois vs. Indiana at the State Farm Center to open the Big Ten season – and close out 2013?
About the only thing that could make the Illini’s 2 p.m. matchup with archrival Indiana on New Year’s Eve more appealing was if the final buzzer instead coincided with midnight and the game-winner could fall through the hoop for Illinois just as the clock strikes 12.
Times Square would have nothing on a ball drop like that.
Saturday Night Fever
To put it bluntly, last season’s Big Ten schedule stunk for Illini fans. There were only two conference home games on Saturday – and one of them was against Nebraska.
This season, however, the Illini will host four Big Ten foes on Saturday with games against Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State. The latter three are set for evening tips making it “Live from Champaign, it’s Saturday Night.”
Unlike the cast of SNL, here’s to hoping that the 2013-14 Illini are Ready-For-Primetime Players.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.