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Illinois Basketball gets favorable Big Ten schedule for 2016-17 season

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Good morning. Welcome to the Orange Minute for Tuesday, June 21.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten Conference announced their preliminary 2015-16 basketball schedule on Monday, and it looks like the Fighting Illini may have gotten a favorable draw. While it'll be a few more weeks until concrete dates get announced for these matchups, we finally know how many times Illinois will play each program.

Home & Away Opponents

Iowa
Maryland
Michigan
Northwestern
Penn State

Home Opponents

Michigan State
Minnesota
Ohio State
Wisconsin

Away Opponents

Indiana
Nebraska
Purdue
Rutgers

I'm not too excited about those home fixtures (more on that in a second), but I think Illinois really lucked out with their multi-play opponents. While Northwestern and Penn State should have better years than they're accustomed to, they're still going to wind up in the bottom half of the standings. Plus, I'm expecting both Iowa and Maryland to take huge steps backward next season.

The away schedule sets up some nice resume-building chances at Indiana, Purdue, and Nebraska. I don't like getting Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin at home because I'd prefer to have Illinois' easier games take place at the State Farm Center; that helps guarantee home results while creating opportunities for quality wins on the road. But avoiding East Lansing and Madison is never a completely terrible thing.

So, yeah, that's how it'll shape up for the Fighting Illini this Winter. How do you think Illinois will do? Let us know in the comments.

Illinois Fighting Illini News

Big Ten inks $1.14 billion media rights deal with ESPN, CBS (TCR)

Both networks will retain their current portion of broadcasting rights, which totals about 50% of overall coverage. Fox recently agreed to their own 6-year, $1.5 billion arrangement for the other half of the package.

Hardy Nickerson Jr. is Illinois Football's top newcomer (ESPN)

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play my final year of college football for my father and head coach Lovie Smith," Nickerson wrote in a statement announcing his plans to transfer. "It is an opportunity that I simply cannot pass up."

Chuck Pagano has high praise for Josh Ferguson (NBC Sports)

"[Ferguson] is not just a third-down back," Pagano said. "He's a good runner. He's explosive and twitchy and he's got a jump cut that's really, really good. The rubber will meet the road when we get to training camp and we put the pads on and see if that play speed is the same."

JUCO wide receiver Will Ulmer is feeling the Illini (Illini Inquirer)

Illinois is looking to add explosive and dynamic playmakers to a more diverse offensive unit now with Garrick McGee overseeing that side of the ball.  One player they are targeting heavily is former Maryland and current Iowa Western receiver Will Ulmer.

Illinois' Dylan Lafond qualifies for Olympic Trials (Fighting Illini Athletics)

Fighting Illini distance runner Dylan Lafond qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend in the 3,000m steeplechase. Finishing with a time of 8:32, Lafond topped his mark at 2015 NCAA Championships where he timed 8:41.11, placing seventh.