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What’s with the lack of in-state opponents?

It’s been a while since the Fighting Illini have faced many of their in-state brethren.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports


Brad Underwood’s Illinois Fighting Illini revealed their complete 2022-23 non-conference schedule late last month.

Before I get into anything else, let me just say that this is a totally fine schedule. There is a nice blend of challenging games against NCAA Tournament-caliber squads (UCLA, Baylor/Virginia, Syracuse, Texas), the annual Braggin’ Rights matchup with Mizzou, and cupcake opponents (or “buy games,” if you prefer to be polite) such as UMKC, Lindenwood, and Bethune-Cookman.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see a date with Eastern Illinois on this year’s schedule. Not that I have any particular fondness for Charleston — though that Jimmy G sure is handsome! — it’s just that it’s strangely rare for the Fighting Illini to compete against a fellow in-state school.

To my surprise, the last regular-season game between EIU and Illinois came back on Dec. 10, 2002. For reference, that was during Brian Cook’s senior season, and five days after my 17th birthday. The average retail price of gasoline was $1.36 per gallon. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was the #1 song on the radio (still a banger, by the way).

This got me thinking about Illinois’ recent — and in many cases, not-so-recent — history against its in-state neighbors.

Western Illinois (Last meeting: 2003, 94-66 W)

  • The Leathernecks played the Illini four times in five seasons between 1999-2003. Fun bonus fact: Brad Underwood was on the sidelines for those games while serving as a Leathernecks assistant.

Northern Illinois (2009, 80-61 W)

  • The Illini & Huskies have played just twice all-time, with the other meeting coming in December 1994.

Southern Illinois (2010, 85-63 W)

  • The Salukis & Illini have met only two other times (1982, 2001), with Illinois winning each contest.

Illinois State (2011, 63-59 W)

  • Sam Maniscalco (!) led the Fighting Illini with 14 points, including five in the final minute, as Illinois won the game and the Cancun Challenge championship.
  • How is it that these two schools, whose campuses are only separated by about 50 miles, haven’t played one another in more than a decade?

SIU-Edwardsville (2011, 66-46 W)

  • SIUE was still in its embryonic stage of Division I hoops (they joined in 2008) but have not made much progress since. The Cougars exist merely to feed the college basketball ecosystem.

Bradley (2013, 81-55 W)

  • Jon Ekey — remember him? — led the Illini with 17 points.
  • The Illini are 14-3 in 17 all-time matchups with the Braves.

Illinois-Chicago (2015, 83-79 W)

  • Illinois & UIC clashed almost annually for the better part of a decade, playing eight straight seasons beginning in 1990. Former Lou Henson assistant Jimmy Collins was the Flames’ head coach from 1996-2010.

DePaul (2017, 82-73 W)

  • One-time program savior Mark Smith scored 21 points (12-12 FT) in the schools’ first matchup in 60 years.

Chicago State (2020, 97-38 W)

  • The Fighting Illini outrebounded the Cougars 55-10 — Kofi Cockburn had 11 rebounds by himself, and Illinois’ 59-point victory was its largest since...the day before, a 122-60 thumping of North Carolina A&T.
  • Certainly a much more favorable result than 2015’s matchup, in which Jalen Coleman-Lands — yes, THAT Jalen Coleman-Lands — hit a buzzer-beating three to avoid the worst defeat in program history.

Loyola Chicago (2021, 71-58 L)

  • I have no recollection of this game. Can someone tell me what happened?
  • These two schools played a bunch in the 80s, but have faced off just four times since 1999, including this alleged “game” in 2021’s NCAA Tournament.

The last time the Illini squared off with multiple in-state programs in the same season was 2011 (they played four (!) — Loyola, SIUE, Illinois State, Chicago State).

What’s the reason for this gap? Is it something nefarious? Is Illinois intentionally dodging its fellow in-state schools — Kansas refusing to play Wichita State comes to mind. There have been multiple head coaches & athletic directors in Champaign the past 20 years...what gives?

Maybe I’m in the vocal minority, but it seems to me that there would be a great benefit to scheduling one or more of, let’s just say NIU, SIU, WIU, and Illinois State in a given year. I think it would be a net positive and give each program some juice, even moreso if Illinois is competing at a championship level — you seriously mean to tell me the Huskies, Salukis, Leathernecks or Redbirds wouldn’t get hyped about the possibility of knocking off the Illini?! Hell, Illinois has played Augustana and McKendree in the REGULAR SEASON more recently than almost all the other teams on this list.

It’s certainly peculiar, if nothing else.

With a 20-game Big Ten schedule and an increased emphasis on neutral-site multi-team events (MTEs) and high-major crossover games, it’s unlikely that the Illini will be squeezing any more in-state opponents into an already packed schedule.

For now, I guess I’ll have to settle for the Jermaine Hamlin revenge game Nov. 7.

Do you think Illinois basketball should be scheduling more in-state teams during non-conference play? Comment below!