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First look at Illinois' men's basketball schedule

The Illini won’t participate in one of the high-profile early-season tournaments. They won’t face a non-Big Ten superpower unless it happens in the NCAA Tournament. But at least we now have proof they’re going to play a minimum of 32 games.

We know this because, at long last, Illinois released its 2013-14 men’s basketball schedule on Wednesday.

Season 2 of the John Groce era commences Nov. 8 vs. Alabama State, the first of 16 regular-season games at the State Farm Center. The first game outside of Champaign will be Nov. 26 at UNLV.

The Big Ten opener is a doozy, with defending league regular-season champ Indiana visiting on New Year’s Eve. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m., so it won’t be as wild a party as it could be. Unless, of course, something like this happens.

“We have a saying in our program that ‘every day matters,’ and that applies very much to this schedule, that every game matters,” coach John Groce said. “With five freshmen and nine new players in the program, as well as our returning players adapting to new roles, it is important that we embrace every game as its own challenge.”

Some highlights and lowlights on the schedule:

  • We mentioned the Dec. 31 affair with the lovable Hoosiers.
  • The non-conference home slate is as lame as lame gets. First come Alabama State and Jacksonville State. Ever been to the state of Jacksonville? Then come Valparaiso, Bradley and Chicago State (ever been to the … forget it), which will please some especially wonky area hoops types but absolutely no one else. Then we get an alleged school called IPFW and, last but possibly not least, the hoops monster that is Dartmouth. Please, try to contain your enthusiasm.
  • The rest of the non-league schedule is pretty diggable. We mentioned UNLV, a strong opponent led by former Illini coach Lon Kruger. Georgia Tech and Auburn (both in Atlanta), Oregon (in Portland) and Missouri (in St. Louis) is all good stuff.
  • Playing UIC (Dec. 28 at the United Center) is always a nice touch. The last time these teams met, three years ago at the UC, the Flames pulled off a 57-54 surprise.
  • The Big Ten schedule is tough but not too unfriendly. The Illini will face Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin twice each, but also Iowa, Penn State and Nebraska twice each. It could be worse.

By the way, the Northwestern game is Jan. 12 in Evanston. We’re sure we’re not the first to say the Illini and Wildcats should always play twice.