First, you may ask, Who is left? That would be an excellent
question, so let's dive right in. Illinois has 11 eligible players
on this season's team. The roster includes:
- Seniors: Dee Brown and James Augustine, both starters last
- Juniors: Rich McBride, Warren Carter and Marcus Arnold
- Sophomores: Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt
- Freshmen: Calvin Brock, Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith and
Brown and Frazier are point guards, while McBride and Smith are
shooting guards. Jackson, Pruitt and Arnold are beefeaters down low,
while Carter, Randle and Brock seem to be players who are most
interchangeable. The leader of this year's squad, without a doubt,
is the lovable Dee Brown. He may be the most popular Illini athlete
of all time, or at least of the past quarter-century. Get used to
seeing his face everywhere, from the TV to magazines to newspapers.
The next obvious question is who will play and who will be left
out of the mix. My best guess on Nov. 17 is a starting lineup of
Brown, McBride, Randle, Augustine and Pruitt. However, I expect
Smith, Frazier and Carter to play big minutes, and don't be
surprised to see Illinois revert to three-guard lineups as the
season rolls along. Coach Bruce Weber has warned fans that the
offensive juggernaut that was last year's Illini is no more and that
the staple of this season's team will have to be lock-down defense.
That is why players like Randle and Arnold could play huge roles on
this team. Conventional wisdom would say Jackson will be redshirted,
but many, including Mayfield, would say all 11 players will be
needed at some point this year. Even Calvin Brock, who at this point
seems to be No. 11 on the depth chart, could emerge as a player to
be counted upon if his defense becomes consistent.
The schedule this year appears to be favorable, especially the
nonconference portion of the slate. Highlights of the
November-December action include a rematch Nov. 29 in Chapel Hill of
last season's championship game, an Assembly Hall game against
Georgetown on Dec. 8, a trip to Portland to face Oregon on Dec. 10
and the annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis on Dec. 21 against
Quinny the Pooh and Missouri. Fourteen games in all make up the
nonconference schedule, and Illinois should be favored in every one
except the Oregon game, which looks like a tossup. The conference
schedule begins and ends with Michigan State, currently No. 4
nationally, and includes trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin with no
return games against the Buckeyes or Badgers in Champaign. Illinois
finishes the conference schedule with three out of four games on the
-- another tough break.
Illinois begins the season ranked No. 17 in both the AP
(sportswriters) and ESPN poll (coaches). I really think that is a
fair ranking at this point and maybe even a little high. In terms of
the conference, I've seen the experts pick Illinois anywhere from
second to sixth. Again -- it would be possible to argue either a
second-place or fifth-sixth-place finish. My gut tells me Illinois
will once again be in the conference title hunt, but visions of 37-2
or outright conference titles are probably just dreams at this
The final element of this year's team that goes overlooked by
most involves the captain of the ship. Coach Bruce Weber has been
ridiculously good up to this point, and I for one am so glad that
Weber is our coach and that guys like Mike Davis are still at
Indiana and Steve Alford is still on the sidelines in Squawkland and
Tommy Amaker is still wearing the Maze and Blue. Weber is the man --
without a doubt -- and I think the improvement Illiniland will see
this season with our young but talented team should solidify any
questions about Weber.
[to top of second column in this article]
So, here we go -- it's time for college hoops. I've waited months
for this season and really look forward to what lies ahead for
Illini Nation. Go, Illini!
2005-2006 Illini men's basketball schedule
Nov. 18 -- vs.
South Dakota State, 7 p.m., WCIA
Nov. 20 -- vs.
Texas-Pan American, 4 p.m., no TV
Nov. 22 -- vs.
Texas Southern, 7 p.m., WCIA
Nov. 25 -- at
South Padre Island, Texas, vs. Wichita State, 3:30 p.m., CSTV
Nov. 26 -- at
South Padre Island, Texas, vs. an opponent to be announced, WCIA
Nov. 29 -- at
North Carolina, 8 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 3 -- vs.
Xavier at United Center, 1 p.m., WCIA
Dec. 5 --
Arkansas-Little Rock, 7 p.m., WCIA
Dec. 8 -- vs.
Georgetown, 8 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 10 -- at
Oregon (Portland), 7 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Dec. 18 -- vs.
Coppin State, 4 p.m., no TV
Dec. 21 -- vs.
Missouri at St. Louis, 7 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 28 -- vs.
Southeast Missouri State, 7 p.m., WCIA
Dec. 30 -- vs.
Tennessee-Martin, 7 p.m., WCIA
Jan. 5 -- vs.
Michigan State, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Jan. 7 -- at Iowa,
1 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 14 -- vs.
Michigan, 3:30 p.m., WCIA
Jan. 17 -- at
Indiana, 6 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 21 -- at
Northwestern, 3:30 p.m., WCIA
Jan. 25 -- vs.
Minnesota, 8 p.m., WCIA
Jan. 28 -- vs.
Purdue, 3:30 p.m., WCIA
Jan. 31 -- at
Wisconsin, 6 p.m., ESPN
Feb. 4 -- vs. Penn
State, 8 p.m., WCIA
Feb. 12 -- at Ohio
State, noon, CBS national
Feb. 15 -- vs.
Northwestern, 7 p.m., WCIA
Feb. 19 -- vs.
Indiana, 2:30 p.m., CBS national
Feb. 21 -- at
Michigan, 6 p.m., ESPN
Feb. 25 -- vs.
Iowa, 5 p.m., ESPN
Feb. 28 or March 1
or 2 -- at Minnesota, time and television to be announced
March 4 -- at
Michigan State, time and television to be announced
March 9-12 -- Big
Ten tournament at Indianapolis, Ind.