Underwood most interested in Big Ten schedule logistics

May 23—CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood knows the basic details of the Big Ten schedule his Illinois men's basketball team will play during the 2024-25 season.

That it will be a 20-game slate again this season even after the conference expands to 18 teams with the additions of Oregon, Southern California, UCLA and Washington.

That the Illini's home-and-home doubles are against traditional Big Ten opponents Michigan State, Wisconsin and geographic rival Northwestern.

But the "who" of the schedule is only part of the equation. The logistics of that 20-game Big Ten slate are more important, with some questions still unanswered.

What order will the games be played and when will Illinois make its trip — or trips — to the Pacific Northwest to play two of the league's newest members in Oregon and Washington? Both USC and UCLA will make the trip to Champaign this upcoming season. That means the earliest the Illini will play out in Los Angeles is during the 2025-26 season.

"I think the format being what it is for 20 games was probably the wise decision here in the early parts of this growth," Underwood said. "I think it's going to be interesting how it all plays out. I think I'm more interested in how the schedule looks from the scheduling point of when you make your West Coast swings and what you've got after it."

The logical move for Illinois' games against Oregon and Washington would be to play them on the same road trip.

Underwood said that would make sense, but he doesn't know if that's the way the conference will schedule it.

The Big Ten teams in the Eastern and Central Time Zones have the advantage on their Pacific Time Zone counterparts in making fewer cross-country trips, but there is one area where Underwood is concerned.

"The hard part about that trip is the return trip," the Illinois coach said. "The East Coast teams lose three hours coming home. We lose two. It's a very challenging trip. When do you schedule that? Can you play on Saturday and then play again on Tuesday or Wednesday or do you have to wait until Thursday?

"Those things become more important in terms of how you actually recover and where you have to go. You may be on the road again. You may be at home. All of that stuff will be determined by a computer and a lot of people a lot smarter than I am."

The Big Ten has five teams ranked in ESPN's Jeff Borzello's "Way-too-early Top 25" that was updated Monday in Purdue, Indiana, UCLA, Ohio State and Maryland. That trails only the Big 12 (seven teams) and SEC (six teams). Projections for the 2024-25 season from Bart Torvik have 13 Big Ten teams in the top 50 and Washington, Iowa and Illinois just outside.

"They're all going to be hard," Underwood said about the Big Ten slate of games. "I don't run away from the fact you're adding Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — all great programs with great history. You've got a new coach at Washington (in Danny Sprinkle) who's found success everywhere he's been. Dana Altman has won more Pac-12 championships at Oregon than anybody over the last 10-15 years.

"It's going to be a great league. We're going to probably look at 12, 13, 14 teams maybe every year (in the mix for the NCAA tournament). You're going to see teams playing on Wednesday, that are going to be NCAA tournament teams, in your conference tournament."