CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois basketball opens Big Ten play hosting Rutgers Friday night at State Farm Center. The Illini (5-2) are coming off a win over Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Monday in a game where they were once again short-handed. Andre Curbelo missed his second straight game, Austin Hutcherson and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk didn’t play as well, as the team deals with a flu bug. Jacob Grandison and Da’Monte Williams both suited up, despite not feeling the best. Trent Frazier returned after hurting his knee in Kansas City, running the point, scoring seven points and dishing six assists in a 82-72 win.
Conference play brings a new energy and excitement for the Illini, who went 16-4 in the league last season, winning the conference tournament title for the first time since 2005. Through the past two years, the Illini are the winningest program in the Big Ten going 24-7.
“One of our goals is to win the Big Ten, and it is important,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “If you can get through 20 games in this league, and you come out on top, you have done a lot. That is a yeoman’s job, job well done men. And that’s our goal.”
Illinois and Rutgers tip-off at 6 p.m. on ESPN 2, the Illini are 9.5-point favorites.