Important Note: The Illinois game will not be televised on Friday night. You need to be a BTN2Go subscriber in order to stream the event online.
We've made it. College basketball returns on Friday with the start of the 2015-16 regular season, and the Illinois Fighting Illini are prepping for their opener against the North Florida Ospreys. The last time we saw Illinois play an actual game, the team was trounced out of their second-straight NIT appearance by the Alabama Crimson Tide. North Florida, on the other hand, made history last year by winning the Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament titles while advancing to their first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Due to the ongoing renovations at the State Farm Center, this Illinois 'home game' will be played at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, IL; the Illini will be playing a total of four regular season games at this venue before returning to Champaign on December 2nd to battle Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Note: These are educated guesses because it's the first game of the year
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Jaylon Tate | JR
- Jalen Coleman-Lands | FR
- Malcolm Hill | JR
- Leron Black | SO
- Mike Thorne Jr. | SR
North Florida Ospreys:
- Dallas Moore | JR
- Trent Mackey | SR
- Chris Davenport | JR
- Beau Beech | SR
- Demarcus Daniels | SR
Illinois' hellish offseason is finally over
The best part about the return of college basketball? Illinois' nightmare offseason has finally reached its conclusion.
The Darius Paul saga ended with the junior forward getting arrested overseas and he was subsequently kicked out of the program for a second time. On top of that, Illinois was the victim of more high-profile injuries to Tracy Abrams (who will miss a second-straight season), Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black, and Jalen Coleman-Lands. Of course, a pretty sub-par recruiting season also didn't do anything to help in the way of fan morale. Keep in mind that all of this was going on as the coaching staff was trying to figure out how to replace to key pieces in Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice, who both graduated from the program last Spring.
There have, however, been some positive developments over the past several months. Mike Thorne Jr. (Charlotte) and Khalid Lewis (LaSalle) both joined the program as fifth-year transfers, and they're both primed to fill needs immediately. Illinois also saw the No. 2 high school recruiting class in Big Ten report to campus in early June.
Thanks to those aforementioned injuries, the three talented freshmen -- Jalen Coleman-Lands, Aaron Jordan, and D.J. Williams -- will all be thrown into the proverbial fire as soon as the season begins. There will surely be growing pains early and often, but this group of newcomers will be laying the foundations for the next era of Fighting Illini basketball right before our eyes.
North Florida is looking to build on historic season
North Florida made history last year by claiming their first-ever Atlantic Sun regular season title, first-ever Atlantic Sun tournament title, and first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. However that tournament appearance was short-lived as the No. 16 seed Ospreys fell to No. 16 seed Robert Morris in the 'First Four'.
The good news for North Florida? Matthew Driscoll's team will have just about everyone back from that roster. Led by junior point guard Dallas Moore (15.8 PPG in 2014-15), the Ospreys return their top three scorers from a year ago. In fact, North Florida's only notable departure was senior guard Jalen Nesbitt, who averaged 10.9 PPG.
KenPom predicts North Florida to go 20-11 (10-4) this season, so expect this to be a tougher-than-usual early season test for the Illini.
Vainisi: Illinois 72, North Florida 63
KenPom: Illinois 75, North Florida 68 (74% W)
Extra #IlliniMBB Content: