Illinois Basketball: Potential Trap Games for Illini in 2013-14

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2013

Illinois Basketball: Potential Trap Games for Illini in 2013-14

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    Illinois has gotten off to a 7-0 start to the 2013-14 campaign, continuing its recent excellence in the month of November. Those seven wins didn't come easily, however, with two-point victories over both UNLV and IPFW coming last week.

    The Fighting Illini get a chance to lengthen their winning streak with six more nonconference games, most notably facing Oregon and Missouri. The Big Ten slate starts up on New Year's Eve, as the Indiana Hoosiers travel to Champaign.

    This Illini squad has the ability to upset top-ranked opponents but can also drop games that should seem to be easy wins. With a heavy freshman- and transfer-led roster, you never know which Fighting Illini squad will show up each night. Here are a few teams John Groce's boys cannot fall asleep on.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

    The next game on the Fighting Illini schedule comes against the ACC's Ramblin' Wreck of Georgia Tech on Tuesday, December 3. The Illini and Yellow Jackets met this time last year in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, as the Illini came out victorious.

    The Jackets led for most of that ballgame, before Joseph Bertrand sparked the Illini and helped them win their fourth consecutive Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchup. Illinois will look to extend that streak, though this game should come down to the wire once again.

    Georgia Tech has lost two consecutive games, to Ole Miss and St. John's, while also losing to Dayton to round out its 5-3 record. Former Tennessee Volunteer point guard Trae Golden is the best player on Brian Gregory's roster and could cause trouble for a struggling Tracy Abrams.

Illinois-Chicago Flames

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    On December 28, the Fighting Illini and UIC Flames take the court at the United Center. This game marks Illinois' annual visit to the UC, while also facing a rival opponent. Illinois and UIC must play once every three seasons, with the last meeting between the two coming in 2010.

    In that 2010 contest, the Flames stunned Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini in a game that was also played at the United Center. That UIC team finished with a poor record, while this year's squad currently sits at 3-4 on the young season. 

    The Flames are led by Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow, a physical wing. UIC has already met one Big Ten foe on the season, losing to Northwestern 93-58 on November 20. The Illinois vs. Illinois-Chicago matchup falls in between rivalry matchups against Missouri and Indiana, while serving as the end of the nonconference campaign. The Fighting Illini faithful do not want to witness a repeat of 2010's performance.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The fourth game on Illinois' Big Ten slate comes at Northwestern on January 12. Though there should be more orange and blue clad fans than purple ones in Evanston that night, Chris Collins and the Wildcats would love nothing more than to beat their in-state rivals on their home court.

    Illinois has won the last two matchups in Evanston, though NU has won two consecutive in Champaign. January 12 will be the only time these two teams meet in 2013-14 barring a Big Ten tournament matchup, due to the Big Ten's uneven scheduling. Simply put, winner of this game takes all.

    Illinois will be coming off a road contest at Wisconsin, a venue nearly impossible to win at. Wings Drew Crawford and Jershon Cobb are the Wildcat's go-to guys, making intriguing individual matchups for presumably Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice.


Penn State Nittany Lions

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    On February 9, the Fighting Illini travel to Happy Valley to face the Nittany Lions. This meeting comes after a five-game gauntlet, where Illinois takes on Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin on in succession. If Illinois thinks it can run over Penn State, not so fast, John Groce and company.

    The Nittany Lions have a deadly tandem in their backcourt, with Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. This will be the second meeting between the two squads, as Illinois hosts Patrick Chambers' bunch on January 4 at the State Farm Center.

    While the Illini should hold serve at their own gym, winning on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task. Illinois has struggled playing in Happy Valley, as seemingly every year in recent memory, former Penn State guard Talor Battle hit a late shot to knock off the favored Illini.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Finally, on February 26, the Fighting Illini and Nebraska Cornhuskers meet, after playing each other just two weeks earlier in Lincoln. This is the 15th of 18 B1G games, before Illinois closes out with challenging contests against Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa.

    The Cornhuskers have hung around with the Illini in each of their two visits to Champaign since joining the Big Ten, though Illinois has won both games. Tim Miles has Nebraska competitive, though a finish near the bottom of the Big Ten is likely for his young Husker squad.

    Forward Shavon Shields could cause concern for either Bertrand or Jon Ekey defensively, while Ray Gallegos is a streaky three-point shooter who could help Nebraska's upset hopes. By this point in the season, Illinois will be looking toward the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments and would be prime for a loss.