This year the Fighting Illini are going to have to deal with some inexperience on this team, with one freshman, seven sophomores, and only six juniors/seniors. Their schedule isn’t that tough. They play nobody that is ranked in the preseason and only a couple of teams receiving votes.
Here are the Top 10 games and the players who have to step up in order for the Illini to win.
10. vs. Eastern Washington
The first game of the year can tell you a lot about the upcoming season, and hopefully this will make fans forget about the near upset by Division II Lewis University in the exhibition season. The two newest players, Fr. Stan Simpson and Jr. Dominique Keeler, have to make a good impression on the coaches, fans, media, and teammates.
9. vs. Hawaii
Last year Calvin Brock made a basket as time was running out to clinch a victory for the Illini over Hawaii. Not only this year, but also for this game, Brock will need to step up again, make some big shots for this team, and become a leader.
8. at Vanderbilt
This game will have some physical contact involved. The exciting matchup between Jermaine Beal and Chester Frazier will be fun to watch. Both guards are physical and distribute the ball very well. The team whose guard plays the best will win.
7. vs. Clemson
This game is part of the Big Ten/ACC Conference Challenge, and in the past several years the Big Ten has been getting smoked. Last year the Illini lost again to Maryland, but this year they will play a Clemson team that is ready to prove they belong in the Top 25. Mike Davis will have to test Raymond Sykes, and Davis will have to prove he can roll with the big dogs.
6. vs./at Penn State
Sharpshooter Talor Battle will give Trent Meacham some experience he needs. The Nittany Lions beat the Fighting Illini twice, but the Illini beat them when it really counted in the Big Ten Tournament.
5. vs./at Wisconsin
The Illini need to put a scare on a ranked team, and they can do that with Wisconsin. If Calvin Brock can beat out Marcus Landry and Chester Frazier can do the same with Trevon Hughes, then the Illini may be able to pull an upset. The Badgers have great home court advantage, so if the Illini want to do some damage, they better do it at the Assembly Hall.
4. vs./at Purdue
The Boilermakers are ranked No. 10 in the preseason polls and are a very dangerous team, as they surprised many last season. Trent Meacham will need to entirely shut down E’Twaun Moore in order for the Illini to have a chance at winning. Robbie Hummel, the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, will be a huge task for sophomore Mike Davis, but Davis has the athleticism to do a fairly good job.
3. vs. Georgia
The Fighting Illini will play this game at their “home away from home,” the United Center in Chicago. Last year the Illini lost the Lexus December to Remember Classic against the Arizona Wildcats.
2. vs./at Michigan State
The Spartans are ranked No. 7 in the preseason polls and are favored to win the Big Ten. Mike Tisdale, at the least, needs to compete with Goran Suton to prove he is ready to take on the center role for the Illini and is ready to play in the Big Ten. Also, the Illini need to prove that they can challenge ranked teams and score some points at their place.
1. vs. Missouri
The Illini have a current eight-game winning streak against the Tigers in the annual Busch Braggin’ Rights game. This is the biggest game for the Illini. Even though the Tigers aren’t ranked, the Illini need to defend their title and keep it here in Illinois.
Once sophomore transfer Alex Legion becomes eligible after Jan. 1, he will give the Illini some range, most likely off the bench.
Last season ended with a run to the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, despite many people thinking they would lose in the first round against Northwestern. The Fighting Illini need to finish games, because last year they blew many leads late in the second half. If they had finished those games, it would have been a different season.