The Illinois basketball team can’t afford to hit that freshman wall, when the rookies run out of gas and stagger to the finish. The Illini face a Big Ten Conference basketball schedule loaded down the stretch. In their final eight games, the Illini face road games against Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State, a pair of games with Wisconsin and a showdown with NCAA runner-up Michigan State in front of the ESPN GameDay studio and a national TV audience.

The Illinois basketball team can’t afford to hit that freshman wall, when the rookies run out of gas and stagger to the finish.

The Illini face a Big Ten Conference basketball schedule loaded down the stretch. In their final eight games, the Illini face road games against Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State, a pair of games with Wisconsin and a showdown with NCAA runner-up Michigan State in front of the ESPN GameDay studio and a national TV audience.

In that span, Illinois also hosts Minnesota and Michigan, a program on the rise under coach Tubby Smith.

“If you go by preseason rankings, the back stretch is going to be very tough,’’ Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “You have NCAA runner-up Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin. All of those teams have been pretty established the last few years.

“We have them all jammed up in the second half. We have to worry about the first game of the year, making progress and getting to that point. We didn’t finish the season last year on a positive note. We have to finish this season on a positive note.’’

Illinois opens regular-season play against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Nov. 13. The Illini play at least 14 games against teams that reached the NCAA tournament last season. The Illini meet Utah and Bradley or Oklahoma State in the final two rounds of the Las Vegas Shootout, face Georgia in suburban Atlanta and battle with rival Missouri in the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.

The Illini also play Gonzaga on Jan. 2 in Chicago, a game pushed back after a conflict with the Illinois football game vs. Fresno State on Dec. 5, after opening conference play against Northwestern on Dec. 30.

“I would hesitate to do it if it was much deeper in the Big Ten,’’ Weber said.

The date with Gonzaga eats one of Illinois’ two bye slots in Big Ten play. Illinois hosts Boise State in a basketball game hours after the Illini-Fresno State football clash. Illinois hosts Vanderbilt in a rare non-conference game against a team from a power conference.

Illinois plays at Michigan and hosts Minnesota in single meetings with those two teams. Otherwise, the Illini play the rest of the league home and home.

NOTES: Former Illinois guard Chester Frazier told Weber he wants to play professionally and is close to signing a deal in Germany, Weber said. ... The Illini will return the game at Western Michigan next season, part of the same contract that sent Illinois to Detroit for a football game against Western Michigan last season. ... Illinois is contemplating an appearance in a Thanksgiving tournament in Cancun, Mexico, next season, but the Illini have also had early interest for the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in Madison Square Garden. ... The deadline for season ticket renewals is Sept. 4. A limited number of section C season tickets are on sale.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois men’s basketball schedule
Home games in CAPS. Time and TV when available.

Oct. 25 — Orange and  Blue scrimmage, 4 p.m.
Oct. 30 — MISSOURI SOUTHERN, exhibition
Nov. 8 — QUINCY, exhibition
Nov. 13 — SOUTHERN ILLINOIS-EDWARDSVILLE
Nov. 17 — NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Nov. 21 — PRESBYTERIAN
Nov. 24 — WOFFORD
Nov. 27 — vs. Utah, at Las Vegas Invitational
Nov. 28 — Bradley or Oklahoma State, at Las Vegas Invitational
Dec. 2 — at Clemson, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, 6:15 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 5 — BOISE STATE
Dec. 8 — VANDERBILT
Dec. 13 — WESTERN MICHIGAN
Dec. 19 — vs. Georgia, at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Ga.
Dec. 23 — vs. Missouri, at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, 8:30 p.m., ESPN2
Dec. 30 — NORTHWESTERN, 8 p.m., BTN
Jan. 2 — vs Gonzaga, at United Center, Chicago
Jan. 5 — IOWA, 8 p.m., BTN
Jan. 9 — at Indiana, 7 p.m., BTN
Jan. 12 — PENN STATE, 8 p.m., BTN
Jan. 16 — at Michigan State, 2:30 p.m, CBS
Jan. 19 — PURDUE, 8 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 23 — at Northwestern, 7 p.m., BTN
Jan. 27 — at Penn State, 5:30 p.m., BTN
Jan. 30 — INDIANA, 1 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2
Feb. 3 — at Iowa, 7:30 p.m., BTN
Feb. 6 — MICHIGAN STATE, 8 p.m., ESPN
Feb. 9 — at Wisconsin, 6 p.m., BTN
Feb. 14 — OHIO STATE, noon, CBS
Feb. 20 or 21 — at Purdue
Feb. 23 — at Michigan, 6 p.m., ESPN
Feb. 27 or 28 — MINNESOTA
March 3 — at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. or 8:30, BTN
March 6 or 7 — WISCONSIN
March 11-14 — Big Ten tournament, Indianapolis
March 18-21 — NCAA tournament, first and second rounds
March 25-28 — NCAA tournament, regional semis and finals
April 3, 5 – Final Four, Indianapolis