Big Ten

Foe-by-foe breakdown of Illini's non-conference hoops schedule

john-groce-0212.png

Foe-by-foe breakdown of Illini's non-conference hoops schedule

We already knew a good portion of the Illini's non-conference schedule for the upcoming 2015-16 basketball season, but the school announced the entire slate Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to already-announced games that will be played in Springfield and a big Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Notre Dame — the first game to be played in a renovated State Farm Center — Illinois unveiled its complete non-conference schedule, and it's not terribly heavy on games to get overly excited about.

Highlights include that game against Notre Dame and a road trip to Providence as part of the first Gavitt Tipoff Games, and the near-Christmas Braggin' Rights game against Mizzou is always mighty entertaining. Plus, the Illini will participate in the Emerald Coast Classic, going up UAB and either Virginia Tech or Iowa State.

"We have a challenging non-conference schedule ahead of us this year," Illinois head coach John Groce said in the announcement. "A number of our opponents are coming off NCAA Tournament seasons and are teams that we feel will be contenders in their respective leagues. So we will be tested against great competition, along with an unusual amount of November travel due to the renovations of our arena. The experiences gained during non-conference play should have us prepared for an extremely competitive Big Ten race."

[MORE BIG TEN: Watch Frank Kaminsky take batting practice at White Sox game]

The upcoming season figures to be an important one for Groce, who after an NCAA tournament appearance in his first season has gone without one in each of the last two seasons. Last season finished with a particular thud, as Illinois was blown out in its final two games of the season against Michigan and Alabama.

Here's an opponent-by-opponent look at Illinois' non-conference schedule.

Nov. 8: vs. Illinois-Springfield (exhibition in Springfield)

The Illini's lone exhibition game pits them against the University of Illinois branch in Springfield. This game will be played in Springfield. Who has the home-court advantage?

Nov. 13: vs. North Florida (in Springfield)

The Ospreys landed in their first-ever NCAA tournament last season as A-Sun champs, though they were bounced after a loss in the First Four. It'll be the first meeting between these two programs.

[MORE BIG TEN: Report: Badgers' Duje Dukan agrees to deal with Sacramento Kings]

Nov. 15: vs. North Dakota State (in Springfield)

The Bison were also in last season's Big Dance, the second straight tourney appearance for NDSU as the back-to-back Summit League champion. The Bison actually have three straight 20-win seasons and have an NCAA tournament win under their belt from 2014. Illinois has seen NDSU twice in school history. Both games were big wins for the Illini in 1975 and 1981.

Nov. 18: at Providence (Gavitt Tipoff Games)

The inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games pits Big Ten schools against Big East schools, and this matchup in Providence will be Illinois' first-ever trip there. These two programs have met twice, in 1965 and 2003, both times in New York City and both times with the Friars capturing victories. Providence has appeared in two consecutive NCAA tournaments, failing to make it out of the Round of 64 in either. But that shouldn't diminish the Friars 45 combined wins in the past two seasons.

Nov. 21: vs. Chattanooga (in Springfield)

This matchup ought to bring back some painful memories for Illini fans, as it was the 14th-seeded Mocs who knocked the sixth-seeded Illini out of the 1997 NCAA tournament. Yes, that's 18 years ago, but some folks don't drop a grudge. Chattanooga's only been to the tourney twice since, making first-round exits in 2005 and 2009. Last season, though, was the first 20-win campaign for the Mocs since 2005. The Illini better watch out, lest they relive the 75-63 game in Charlotte way back in March of 1997.

[MORE BIG TEN: What should Terps' Mark Turgeon name his ice cream flavor? You decide!]

Nov. 23: vs. Chicago State (in Springfield)

The Illini have won all 11 meetings against the Cougars since the mid-80s, though this game will have the distinction of being the first between the two schools to be played outside of Champaign. Illinois shouldn't worry too much, though, as Chicago State won just eight games last season.

Nov. 27/28: Emerald Coast Classic, Niceville, Fla.

Thanksgiving weekend was good to Illinois last season, when it scored an impressive non-conference win over Baylor in Las Vegas. This time around, the setting isn't as high-profile, as the scene shifts to the nicely named Niceville, Fla. The opponents, though, are still good. UAB will be Illinois' first, and the Blazers gained plenty of fame for knocking off Iowa State in the Round of 64 in last season's Big Dance. The Blazers won 20 games and were the Conference USA tournament champs. Then the Illini will get one of two opponents in the second game, either those Iowa State Cyclones or the Virginia Tech Hokies. Fred Hoiberg now works in the Land of Lincoln, but Iowa State has won at least 20 games four seasons in a row with four straight tourney appearances. The Hokies have been to just two NCAA tournaments since 1986.

Dec. 2: vs. Notre Dame (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

The highlight of the non-conference slate for many reasons, all Illini fans should have this one circled on the calendar. Illinois holds a 27-13 all-time series edge, though the teams haven't met since the 2003 NCAA tournament, when the Irish eliminated the Illini with an eight-point win in the Round of 32. This will actually be the first meeting between the two in Champaign since 1963, and it will also be the first game played in the completely renovated State Farm Center. The Irish are coming off one of their best seasons ever. They won the ACC Tournament and nearly ended Kentucky's perfect season in a thrilling loss in the Elite Eight.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hoosiers' James Blackmon Jr. has offseason knee surgery]

Dec. 5: vs. Western Carolina

The Western Carolina Catamounts have visited Champaign twice before and lost by a combined 31 points in 2007 and 2012. They won just 15 games last season and have just one NCAA tournament appearance (1996).

Dec. 9: vs. Yale

The break between meetings with Yale will be a little shorter than the last for Illinois. The 2010 was the second all-time matchup between the two, coming just 61 years after the first. Both were Illini wins. The Bulldogs did have a 20-win campaign last season for the first time since 2002, but you have to go back to 1962 for their last NCAA tournament appearance.

Dec. 12: vs. UIC (United Center)

This will be the fifth game between the Illini and Flames at the United Center since 2003. All time, Illinois holds a 13-2 edge in this series, but UIC has gotten one recently, winning at the UC in 2010. The Flames have a new head coach in former Tom Crean assistant Steve McClain after winning 43 games in five seasons under former Wisconsin Badger Howard Moore.

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans' Valentine, Terps' Trimble picked for USA Basketball roster]

Dec. 19: vs. South Dakota

In 1971, the Illini defeated the visiting South Dakota Coyotes by 40 in Champaign, something Groce would like to replicate in the programs' second all-time meeting.

Dec. 23: vs. Missouri (St. Louis)

The non-conference season ends with the annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis. These are always extremely entertaining matchups regardless of how good either side is. Last season, neither made the NCAA tournament, but Rayvonte Rice's buzzer-beater was arguably the play of the season for Illinois. The Illini have a 24-16 edge over the Tigers all time. Mizzou head coach Kim Anderson is entering his second season after winning just nine games in his first.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

1121_baker_mayfield.jpg
USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

1114_miami_hurricanes.jpg
USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.