As college football season swings into full gear, the world of college basketball awaits its turn in the national spotlight. The Big Ten recently announced its national television schedule on August 28, which features 49 games on the ESPN or CBS networks.
The Fighting Illini will kick off their regular season on November 8 at home against Alabama State. Notable non-conference games include Georgia Tech and Auburn in Atlanta on December 3 and 8 respectively, at Oregon on December 14 and at Mizzou on December 21 in St. Louis. The Illini conclude their non-conference schedule against UIC at the United Center in Chicago on December 28.
Besides a young team, the Illini will face many challenges in 2013. Here we look at the five biggest challenges for the Illini this season.
The Illini will court a very young squad in 2013. The only senior who was with the Illini last season is guard Joseph Bertrand. Besides him, the only other senior is Ahmad Starks, a transfer from Oregon State (excluding graduate student Jon Ekey, a transfer previously discussed from Illinois State).
On the plus side, Illinois' youth is a positive for the future. The team may be a contender soon with the proper guidance from second-year coach John Groce.
Of the Illini's 13 losses in 2012, only two of them were to non-conference opponents. The Illini lost nine regular season conference games and were knocked out of the Big Ten tournament by Indiana in the second round. Their only other losses were to No. 12 Missouri and a heartbreaking loss to No. 2 Miami in the second round of March Madness.
The Illini will have another tough year in Big Ten competition. Sporting News' preseason Top 25 included six Big Ten teams, including Michigan State at No. 2.
See the full Top 25 list here.
The Illini were a disappointing 5-6 on the road in 2012 (excluding neutral sites). Although they were 12-4 at home last season, the boys in orange suffered multiple disappointing road losses including Purdue, Iowa and Wisconsin, a 74-51 drubbing.
Improving on the road and eliminating bad road losses will be tough for the Illini, especially in conference play.
Seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey will be difficult to replace in 2013. The three combined for a total of 36.1 points per game last season. Richardson and Paul averaged 33.8 and 32.0 minutes respectively.
Besides their stats, the three upperclassmen were outstanding leaders to the program. Paul was named the MVP and Richardson received the Kenny Battle Leadership Award.
Generally speaking, the Illini had a successful season in 2012.
Only four points and a controversial call separated them from a Sweet 16 appearance. Perhaps their most significant moment was their upset over No. 1 Indiana in February. The Illini started off the season at 12-0 and took home the Maui Invitational Championship.
The Illini will have a big challenge ahead of them with so many key departures and will need returnees like Joseph Bertrand to lead the team.