Everything starts tomorrow night when the Illini take on the early-season league favorite - the Michigan State Spartans - at Assembly Hall in Champaign. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 at 8:00 p.m. The crew for this game will be Brent Musburger, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, expert analyst; and Erin Andrews, sideline reporter. This early season match-up has two of the best teams in college basketball knocking heads: #6 Illinois (14-0) vs. #7 Michigan State (12-2). What a way to start off the conference regular season.
Head Coach Bruce Weber is in his third year at Illinois and already has an overall winning record of 77-9 and 28-4 in league play. Currently Weber is 2-0 vs. the Spartans. Also note that the Illini team is 35-1 under Weber in the Hall, with a winning pct of .972.
Some of the national media think the jury is still out on this team because they haven't "played" anyone yet. Let's be real here - no one thought this team would be 14-0 at this point due to the players they lost from last year. "Some of this has been a surprise to me because we have so many new guys this year, but they have all bought in to what we're doing. Obviously everything starts with Dee and James," Weber said. This being a home game definitely gives the Illini the advantage.
Up next will be the always dangerous trip to Carver Hawkeye Arena, another team that has all the tools to make some noise in the Big Ten. Last year the Illini swept the Hawks and basically took over Iowa City that night. Rumor has it that this year that Hawk fans are going to make sure that Saturday's road game will be just that - a typical tough venue for Weber and his boys. Can the Illini survive this one? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure - with the way this team can guard they will always have a shot. This could be a very dangerous game for Illinois.
Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan are the most athletic teams in the conference. When the Illini take on Michigan they will not be like past Wolverine teams. This year the Illini could be in a dogfight because the Wolverines are just as athletic as the Illini. The great thing about this game is that the Illini will have a week to prepare.
Finally, the game that I know many can't wait to see is the Indiana game on January 17th in Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. The Hoosiers have a very, very good team this year. The number one team in the land currently is the Duke Blue Devils and I think if it wasn't for the first 15 minute drought, the Hoosiers may have gotten the Blue Devils.
All in all, the Big Ten is going to be tough this year and this isn't coaches' speak. Last year Illinois was spoiled and didn't lose a game until the end. This year Illini fans, that might not happen because I can assure you winning on the road will be a bear this year.
However looking at Weber's win-loss record - anything is possible.