Illinois' 2024-25 schedule won't include 'Feast Week' MTE

May 9—CHAMPAIGN — Turns out Brad Underwood wasn't exaggerating when he said Tuesday morning at Ubben Basketball Complex the 2024-25 Illinois men's basketball schedule would be "harder than ever."

Roughly 10 minutes after Underwood discussed how he had zero interest in putting together a softer schedule for a mostly new team, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reported Illinois and Duke were working to finalize a game at Madison Square Garden for the coming season. Wednesday provided more from Rothstein with another report that Illinois and Alabama were closing in on a two-year agreement to play in Birmingham, Ala., this coming season and in Chicago the next.

"We're putting together a great, great schedule and a schedule that is competitive as we are," Underwood said Tuesday. "As long as I'm the head ball coach at Illinois, we're going to play people. We're not going to run from them. ... We want to make sure that we position ourselves in our non-league to match the games we play in the Big Ten."

Mission on the way to being accomplished should those games against Duke and Alabama make it on Illinois' 2024-25 schedule. The Blue Devils could be a top five team heading into next season with two potential lottery picks — Cooper Flagg and Khaman Maluach — set to arrive in Durham, N.C.

The Crimson Tide are a likely preseason top 25 team, too, given how their roster has come together. Grant Nelson and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. return for Alabama, and coach Nate Oats has added Clifford Omoruyi (Rutgers), Chris Youngblood (South Florida) and Aden Holloway (Auburn) from the transfer portal to go with a 2024 recruiting class that only trails Duke's collection of five-star prospects.

Illinois also has a return game against Tennessee — a third Elite Eight team along with Duke and Alabama — set for Dec. 14 at State Farm Center after playing at Tennessee last season. Along with the annual pre-Christmas Braggin' Rights showdown with Missouri in St. Louis.

What the 2024-25 Illini schedule won't include, though, is a "Feast Week" trip. No multi-team event on the road during Thanksgiving even though that was the original plan for this coming season. Illinois still has obligations to play in the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida dating back to the 2020-21 season when the event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It just didn't work this year," Underwood told The News-Gazette on Wednesday. "When we originally got in that event it was Iowa State, Florida and Oregon. Now we've seen some of the challenges that have come up with these events with expansion. We've chosen to continue to have a great home schedule, but maybe look for some one-off games that will be quality games."

Quality games like the ones against Duke and Alabama. Plus a further slate of nonconference games that could resemble what Illinois did this past season by hosting Oakland and Colgate. Strong mid-major programs that both made the NCAA tournament.

"We kept an extremely high NET and strength of schedule," Underwood said about his team's 2023-24 schedule. "I think we'll look at something a little more like that, and in the future get a little more stable in what scheduling looks like and get back in some of these made-for-TV events."