CHAMPAIGN — Two months ago, the NCAA announced that the men’s basketball season would start on Nov. 25.
During that time, Illinois fans only knew about six games involving the Fighting Illini, who were rated No. 8 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
An opening tournament against North Carolina A&T, Wright State and Ohio on Nov. 25-27, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Duke on Dec. 8, the annual Braggin’ Rights contest against Missouri to be played this year in Columbia, Mo., because of a coin flip on Dec. 12 and against Baylor in the Jimmy V Classic at a site to be determined.
On Wednesday, the entire 20-game Big Ten schedule was released as well as the site, Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, for the contest with No. 2 Baylor in the Jimmy V Classic presented by Corona on Dec. 2. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. as No. 1 Gonzaga will play No. 12 Tennessee in the first game at 6 p.m. Normally, the Jimmy V Classic is held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“What better way to do it than in the heartland of American, in Indianapolis, with so many Final Fours and great venues. It’s basketball country,’’ said Illinois coach Brad Underwood in a story on ESPN.com.
In keeping with current COVID-19 protocols, there will be no spectators in attendance for the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the game can be seen on ESPN as well as heard on the Busey Bank Illini Sports Network including Danville stations on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.
Illinois returns all five starters from its team that went 21-10 last year including a 13-7 record in the Big Ten Conference, while Baylor, coached by Scott Drew, is coming off a 26-4 season in 2019-20 and the Bears were the runners-up in the Big 12 Conference with a 15-3 mark.
As far as the Big Ten schedule goes, Illinois will begin league play on Dec. 15 at home against Minnesota.
The Illini with have home-and-away games with Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, while Illinois has only home games with Iowa, Maryland and Purdue and only road games with Michigan, Michigan State and Rutgers.
Finally on Wednesday, Illinois announced the starting times for its first three games of the season next week.
The Illini will open with the North Carolina A&T Aggies at 1 p.m. on Nov. 25 at the State Farm Center. North Carolina A&T went 17-15 last year and the Aggies were 12-4 in the MEAC.
On Thanksgiving, Illinois will play the Wright State Raiders in a 11 a.m. contest. Wright State is coached by Scott Nagy, who is the son of former Illinois assistant Dick Nagy. The Raiders were 25-7 a year ago and they were 15-3 in the Horizon League.
The Ohio Bobcats will be the third opponent for Illinois in the multi-team tournament at noon on Nov. 27. Ohio was 17-15 last season with an 8-10 record in the Mid-American Conference.
Fans will not be permitted at any of the games, but all three will be shown on the Big Ten Network as well as heard on the Busey Bank Illini Sports Network, including Danville stations WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.