CHAMPAIGN – The Big Ten Conference’s unfamiliar step to the east is giving schools the quirkiest men’s basketball schedule in a long time.
Because the Big Ten will play its conference tournament in New York City for the first time, and because it had to be scheduled one week earlier than usual to secure Madison Square Garden, every conference school will play its first two league games in early December.
That includes the Illini, which will open Big Ten play on Friday, Dec. 1 against Northwestern. But with Welsh-Ryan Arena closed for renovations, the game will be played at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Two days later, on Dec. 3, Illinois will host Maryland at the State Farm Center.
What makes the schedule even stranger is that teams will then halt league play and continue with the non-conference portion of their schedules. Illinois will play six non-conference games between Dec. 6 and Dec. 30 before Big Ten play resumes on Jan. 3 at Minnesota.
The Big Ten Tournament, which last year was in Washington, D.C., will be played Feb. 28 through March 4 in New York City. That means Big Ten teams will have an extended break between the conclusion of the conference tournament and the start of the NCAA Tournament.
Selection Sunday is on March 11, 2018 while the earliest NCAA Tournament games will be played on Tuesday, March 13 and 14 in Dayton, Ohio.
First-year Illini coach Brad Underwood released this statement about the schedule, which does not yet include game times and television assignments:
“The release of the conference schedule leads to much discussion about the games, but as coaches one of the first things we do is dive right into the logistics of planning practice days, off days and travel.
“But overall, I’m excited about the schedule we have in front of us and most importantly, about leading our team through the Big Ten race for the first time.
“This is an exceptional league with outstanding players and coaches and great fans who create home court environments that are difficult to play in front of.”
All 14 Big Ten teams will play one conference home game and one conference road game between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5.
Illinois’ Big Ten schedule in January and February is rather choppy.
Four of the first conference games in January will be on the road including games at Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The only home game in that stretch is a Jan. 11 meeting with Iowa.
Then Illinois plays five of six games at home including State Farm Center contests against Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers, Wisconsin and Penn State.
The Illini will not play Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota at home this season and will not play on the road against Penn State, Maryland, Purdue and Iowa.
After the league takes its conference tournament east for 2017 and 2018, it returns to the Midwest for four years. Chicago’s United Center will host the event in 2019 and 2021. Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will host the tournament in 2020 and 2022.