Assembling a college basketball schedule has to be as comforting and pain-free as pouring vinegar over an open flesh wound (and probably just as sanitary as well). There’s probably a well-oiled science behind how everything gets put together from a scheduling standpoint between athletic directors, directors of basketball operations managers, staff, yada yada yada — but there are a few teams we would like the Illini to consider when it comes to building the 2018-19 non-conference schedule.
Right now, the only announced “non-conference” games are the Braggin Rights game on Dec. 22, and the Maui Invitational featuring the Arizona Wildcats, Auburn Tigers, Duke Blue Devils, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa State Cyclones, San Diego State Aztecs and the Xavier Musketeers. We figured all of these teams were out of the running, which eliminates a lot of fun game potentials.
After conversing with the TCR Stats Department over a cold Papa Del’s pizza left out after a night at Joe’s and a two-liter bottle of Dr. Thunder, we have assembled three non-conference opponents for the DIA to consider when building this upcoming season’s basketball schedule. Each opponent has been placed into one of three “regions” based on the relative strength of RPI/national ranking/etc etc with NO TEAMS FROM ILLINOIS being included (that’s another article you’ll read this summer...probably). Also keep in mind that the Big Ten/ACC Challenge exists, so Jim Delaney will handle any scheduling of games played between Illinois and teams from that conference.
All of that being considered, here’s what we came up with:
At least the Strength of Schedule looks good: Kentucky Wildcats
Hey! Why not? John Calipari will have a fresh batch of one-and-dones that are already thinking about the NBA with 23,000 fans already scheduling their vacation days off of work to travel to wherever the Sweet 16 is next season. Win the game, and immediately become one of the greatest teams in Illini basketball history (and avenge the 1984 Elite Eight loss). Lose, and you have a “quality loss” under your belt.
Potentially Winnable Game vs. Quality Opponent: Houston Cougars
Remember back in 2008 when Indiana’s head coach was booked for a recruiting violation of one Eric Gordon? Remember how Gordon had verbally committed to play with Bruce Weber at Illinois and then flipped his decision after Sampson started calling him AFTER his verbal commitment? Did you know that the reason Dan Dakich got a coaching gig in the Big Ten was because he filled in as interim Head Coach of the Indiana Hoosiers after Sampson was suspended? Wouldn’t it be nice to beat the stuffing out of Kelvin Sampson and earn a quality win over a likely-ranked opponent? Uh huh...that’s what we thought.
There goes the ‘ol RPI: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Can already see it now: Illinois schedules a game against Hawaii two days before the Maui Invitational to adjust to island time and loses by seven heading into a tournament loaded with quality opponents. That almost happened in 2012, when it took a DJ Richardson buzzer-beater to beat Hawaii just a few days before the Maui Invitational. Mind you, the Illini would go on to win the tournament after defeating Butler in the Championship game, but a loss to a likely sub-200 RPI team days before the Maui Invite would be a bad loss.
What do you think? Are there other teams you would add to any of the “regions” listed above?
Let us know in the comments below!