CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The multi-event portion of Illinois’ men’s basketball non-conference schedule has been announced.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches announced Wednesday morning that Illinois will be a participant in the four-team Hall of Fame Classic tournament at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.
The field will also include Arkansas, Cincinnati and Kansas State and the event is scheduled for Nov. 22-23 with semifinal matchups to be announced later but all four games of the event will air on one of the several ESPN networks.
Illinois’ 2021-22 non-conference schedule now includes two guaranteed games in this Hall of Fame Classic event, a non-conference matchup at home against Arizona, a Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri, a matchup in ACC/Big Ten Challenge and a Gavitt Games matchup vs. a Big East Conference opponent.
Arkansas is arguably the dominant program in this Hall of Fame Classic event after coming off a 25-win season that included a trip to a regional final of the 2021 NCAA tournament. Razorbacks head coach Eric Mussselman has already added three players via the transfer portal (Chris Lykes from Miami-Fla., a player who has scored 28 points in State Farm Center in a win over Illinois on Dec. 3, 2019; Au’Diese Toney from Pittsburgh and Stanley Umude from South Dakota. The Razorbacks, who are expected to return Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year recipient JD Notae, are placed No. 9 in the current preseason Top 25 and 1 rankings by CBS Sports analyst Gary Parrish.
Arkansas and Illinois have played each other five previous times with the Illini winning every game including every season in a four-game home-and-home contract from 2001-2004. The last matchup was a 72-60 win for Illinois in Little Rock.
Cincinnati will be featuring its third head coach since 2006 in first-year leader Wes Miller from UNC-Greensboro. John Brannen coached at UC from 2019-2021, and Mick Cronin led the program to nine straight NCAA Tournaments during his tenure from 2006-2019. Cincinnati reached the 2021 American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game but finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 12-11 record in the regular season, its worst winning percentage since 2007. After this past season, six Cincinnati players entered the transfer portal, including leading scorer Mike Saunders Jr. and Tari Eason.
Illinois has faced Cincinnati four times and all of them have come in neutral site games with the last time being a 67-45 victory for the Illini on New Year’s Eve in 2004 in the Las Vegas Classic.
Kansas State finished 9-20 overall last season in what was the worst season of former Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s tenure. It’ll be the third time KSU has participated in the event.
“We are excited about playing in the Hall of Fame Classic again and hopefully playing in front of a purple-packed T-Mobile Center,” Weber said in a university release Wednesday. “Arkansas and Illinois should be preseason top-20 teams and Cincinnati always has a quality team, so it will be one of the top preseason tournaments next season.”
The matchups could also see the Illini face former guard Mark Smith one more time. Weber announced on March 31 the signing of Smith as a graduate transfer from Missouri. Smith, a former Illinois Mr. Basketball selection who signed with Illinois out of high school, has won three straight Braggin’ Rights games against the Illini as a member of the Missouri roster.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood is a KSU alum and former KSU assistant coach under then-head coach Frank Martin. Illinois has faced Kansas State 10 previous times but the last matchup was Dec. 2, 2000 in a 76-56 win for the Illini in KSU’s home arena.