Better Know A Gavitt Tipoff Games Opponent: Illinois

Illinois doesn't have a mascot, so here's a cheerleader running with a giant flag. - Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

This week, we look at Marquette's downstate rival for Chicago area talent.

Marquette has a varying history with the members of the Big Ten.  They have a long running series with Wisconsin, of course, and there are a few other schools that MU has squared off with over the years.  With the announcement of the Gavitt Tipoff Games and at least six games against Big East opponents, we're going to check in on Marquette's history against each of the 13 teams and see what could make for the most interesting match ups.

For lack of any particular order of importance, we'll go in order of how many times Marquette has seen each particular opponent. This week, we turn our attention to the first of two schools in the state to the south.

Illinois

All Time Series: Illinois leads, 9-5
Last Meeting: December 7, 1993

As per usual, Marquette has a losing record against the Illini.  With that said, Marquette has won each of the last two meetings with Illinois, and five of the last seven.  The last two games came as part of a home and home series back in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and those were the first two games since a two game set in 1979 and 1980.  Before that, you have to go back to 1960 to find a Marquette-Illinois game, which was the last game in a four year series.  Those have Two of Marquette's wins have come while Illinois was ranked, including the last encounter.  That win over the Orange and Blue was Marquette's first of four wins over ranked opponents in 1993-94 en route to popping Kentucky in the face in the NCAA tournament.

If Marquette and Illinois do hook up in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, it will be the earliest game every played between the two teams.  All but one of the MU-Illinois games have taken place in December of their respective seasons, with the lone outlier taking place on January 28, 1948.  The Warriors and the Illini have played as early as December 2nd, with that game coming in 1957, but the Gavitt Games will take place in mid-November, easily clearing that bar.

John Groce has been the head coach in Champaign for two seasons.  After guiding Ohio to two NCAA tournaments in his four seasons, including pushing North Carolina to overtime in the 2012 Sweet 16, he got the nod to take over the Illini.  He powered a team largely made up of Bruce Weber's recruits to a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament in his first season even though they were just 8-10 in Big Ten play.  Following the departures of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, Illinois struggled to a 2-8 start in Big Ten games before recovering just enough to qualify for the NIT and advanced one round.  Of course, it's still much too early to make any definitive statements on Groce's tenure, but the Illini do have a nasty recent habit of doing well early under a new coach before struggling later on.

For those of you that know Illinois' home arena as Assembly Hall, it's time to get up to speed.  Last season was the first season for the building under its new name of State Farm Center.  The University of Illinois agreed to a 30 year contract with the insurance company of the same name to provide naming rights to the arena that opened in 1963.  It's a $60 million dollar deal for the Illini, and it comes right as they proceed with a massive renovation project on the arena as well.  According to FightingIllini.com, the point of the project is to "include premium seating and state-of-the-art player facilities."  They list the building with a capacity of 16,618, which is the largest capacity of the building according to Wikipedia.  When the renovation is completed, the capacity will drop to approximately 15,500, which will be the smallest capacity of the building, as it started above 16,000 and has only increased since 1980.  That could end up being beneficial to the Illini, as they only drew an average crowd of 15,126 during last season.

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