Welcome to Assembly Hall north

CHICAGO -- Illinois fans are not hard to find.

This isn't surprising or revelatory, but it's always fun: The orange-clad fans of Illinois basketball don't take much to get worked up. After all, the Illini have been slightly disappointing thus far in 2009-10 -- a December loss to a struggling Georgia team being perhaps the most disappointing result -- and today's date with Gonzaga at the United Center is a bit of an early Saturday start for the day after New Year's.

You wouldn't know either from the attendance and energy level inside the United Center, where 20,000-plus orange-clad maniacs showed up to root on the Illini just the same. The annual trek from Champaign, IL. to Chicago has become a popular fixture in and of itself, but you won't see a United Center crowd this unified unless you head to a Blackhawks game. It's very impressive. There's a reason Illinois is so tough at home and this, for better or worse, is a home game.

(Oh, and there is a decent-sized Gonzaga contingent in the building, which is impressive given Gonzaga's size and how far away we are from Spokane, Wash.)

Of course, there's actual basketball here too, which just got underway. Gonzaga opened a 13-2 lead before the first under-16 timeout, as Illinois is noticeably struggling to get good looks on the offensive end. I'll be here all day -- I'm also trekking down to Michigan State-Northwestern in Evanston for a 6:30 ET start -- so check in and follow along on this rather exciting day of hoops.