Blue Bloods

In scrolling through Twitter last night after UConn beat Kentucky, several people pointed to the same thing: this is UConn’s fourth title in the last 16 years. They gained access to the club in 1999 and have added three more titles since. Once you become a blue blood, it seems, you’re in and set for life.

I want in.

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Go B1G?

New Years Day 1998. I’m at my friend JohnB’s apartment in Nashville. Most of that group of UIUC friends is there – Derek, Goah, Benny, Baynes – and we’re discussing the Rose Bowl that afternoon. How Michigan has a shot at the national title if they win. And how all my friends will be pulling for Michigan, because that’s good for the Big Ten. I just couldn’t do it. [Read more...]

The Low Point

Over the past few years, I’ve been a bit obsessed with identifying our low point.  “Things will start to improve starting… NOW.”  It’s never a good sign when you can think of at least three other times in the last five years where you wrote a blog post about our football or basketball low point.  If you can’t find the bottom, you haven’t hit it yet. [Read more...]

Fight

If I’m named head coach of the Illini basketball program some day – and seriously, people, never even consider me for this job (but I will take the football job when it’s offered) – I think the first thing I’d do when meeting with my team for the first time would be to give a speech on this: how we’re going to win games when the shots aren’t falling. [Read more...]

NIT Lessons

I need NIT lessons.  Seriously, I’m wholeheartedly willing to listen and learn about fan behavior vis a vis the NIT.  Because I think I’m on a different page than everyone else.  Let me attempt to explain.

Last year, we made the Tournament and Iowa made the NIT.  We lost in the Round of 32 and Iowa made the NIT final.  And we all had those Iowa friends who went full Iowa fan and said things like “we’re still playing and you’re not”.  Which is ridiculous, of course, and can be immediately slapped down with “a first round NCAA loss is better than an NIT championship”.  Because it is.

So now that the shoe is on the other foot, I’m more subdued.  I feel like I know my place.  The NCAA Tournament is where it’s at, and the NIT is more of an, I don’t know, exhibition.  It’s still fun to see us playing, and I hope we win it all, and I don’t want the season to end, but still, hanging over this whole thing is a cloud of “it’s the NIT – let’s never be here again”.

I had an appointment from 6:15 to 7:00 that I couldn’t change, which normally means “tape the game and start it on tape delay when arriving at home, catching up by the end”, but since this was the NIT, I didn’t do that.  My son wanted to go to Red Robin to chat about some things in his life, so I told him I’d meet him after my appointment and we could watch the second half of the game from there.  Normally it’s a bad idea for me to go to a restaurant with me during an Illini game, because I can’t not stare at the TV, but this was the NIT, so I saw no issues there. It’s taping at home, I’ll pour over the specifics later.

When we got there, Illinois cut the lead to four, but then Boston pushed it back to ten.  So we chatted about life and high school and prom and Carmelo and watched the Illini game in the background.  When he’d grab his phone to snapchat someone, I’d grab my phone and tweet something about the game.

Joe hit a three, and I tweeted something about riding the seniors at the end since this was their last game, and this was the response:

It was then I realized that I probably needed NIT lessons. Maybe I’m not approaching this correctly. And since Ben mentioned bowl games, I remembered the last time I received a response like this on Twitter: the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Vic Koenning had called for a fake field goal in the first half and it failed. I tweeted something about loving the gamble since it was just the KFHB, and I received several angry “you PLAY to WIN the GAME” responses. In fact, many fans were quite angry during the first three quarters of that game, and I couldn’t understand why. It was a seventh tier bowl game. Let’s just go have some fun and see if we can maybe squeak out a win. Go deeper with the bench. Experiment with everything. And at the end, ride your seniors because this is it for them. Maybe they’ll surprise you?

So at halftime of the Fight Hunger Bowl, I wrote the following quickie post:

OK, so I just ditched everything I wrote in the second quarter. Because I want to say this:

Why are so many people so angry? I don’t get it. I just took some time to peruse our message boards. Anger, anger, and more anger. What?

This is the Fight Hunger Bowl. I has been mercilessly mocked by every single college football writer nationwide. UCLA and Illinois are kind of the laughingstock of the college football world. If you’re a twitterer, just look at the tweets about this game. ”Different sport than the Alamo Bowl”… “Fight Offense Bowl”… “First one to 10 wins”

It’s like that dream where you’re back in high school and you’re naked in the lunch room and everyone’s laughing at you (just me?). You kind of have two options at that point. Cover yourself and run screaming out of the room, or have fun with it. Get up on a lunch table and dance.

We’re naked in front of the entire college football world right now. Our defense is solid, but our offense is broken. We knew this. It’s why we fired our coach. And the same goes for UCLA. Their team is broken, so they fired their coach.

So why the anger? If we’ve ever had a freebie game in the history of Illini football, it’s this one. The problems that led to this offense being so bad have been corrected – the coaches are gone. We just have one more game to play, that’s all.

I’m thrilled that we’re playing seniors (yay Wisdom Onyegbule) and faking field goals. I’m excited to watch our defense in the second half. I’d love to see more Donovonn Young – he’s the future, so let’s let him know that before the offseason – but as for the rest of the game, I want more FUN. More fakes. More tricks. Triple reverse, please.

Because why not? We’re standing naked at the 50. Let’s dance.

So maybe that’s where my NIT lessons need to start. Or maybe just my sports lessons, as I seem to get to this “everyone relax and just have fun” THANKS DAD moment a lot. As a fan, I see the NIT (and the KFHB) differently than I see the regular season (and especially the NCAA Tournament). I like having extra games, I like getting a guy like Ray back on track, I want to win, but I’m mostly just wanting to see my team a few more times before the long cold summer of no Illini games. Maybe we learn some things, maybe we use it as a springboard for next year, but a loss is just a loss. Very similar to a low-tier bowl game. Love them. Let’s go have some fun and maybe learn some things about ourselves, because this doesn’t really matter.

Iowa’s game tonight? That mattered. Sure, it’s fun to win on the same night that the Hawkeyes lose, but let’s be honest: they can still hold this season over our heads. They made the dance and we didn’t, and that’s really all that matters. We could win the NIT, but we’d all still rather be in their shoes. Their knock-off, Voit brand shoes.

So against Clemson on Sunday, I’m planning to be in the same “it’s the NIT, pressure’s off, let’s have some fun” mode (until it’s a one possession game at the end, of course, when all I care about is winning). But maybe I shouldn’t be? I can totally see the whole “there’s never a time to ‘experiment’ or ‘ride the seniors’ – there is only the desire to win” in theory. Maybe that’s where I should be. If beating Clemson improves our chances to beat Oregon in Chicago next December by 0.013%, then we need to take advantage of that.

But I’ll warn you – it’s going to be difficult for me to pull off. I’ve mocked too many fans of teams in the NIT over the years – I chanted “N-I-T” in the Krush too many times – to see these games as anything more than just another chance to watch us play basketball. I can get down with “play the freshmen if anything – experience will matter next year”, but it’s still an NIT game at 10:00 on a Sunday morning. I’m good with being here this year since it’s a complete rebuild, but let’s never do this again. I get win at all costs, but I still have this “this should be about seeing how far Joe and Jon can take us so that the younger guys learn what it means to be a senior in this program” feeling.

Hmmmm… I’m really fighting this. Maybe I should just stop talking and listen. For those who disagree – maybe even those who tweeted a response above – what am I missing? What’s wrong with riding the seniors at the end of what looked like their final game? Do I have the NIT all wrong?

N-I-T

You know what? I’m OK with it. Are you OK with it? I think I am.

You never want to find yourself in the NIT. Since my fandom began in earnest in 1983, we’ve only been in the NIT three times: 1996, 2010, and this year. ’96 and ’10 were disappointments, so is this year the same? I don’t think so. [Read more...]

Illini Fall to Michigan in Final Seconds

Illinois always seems to make the Big Ten Tournament interesting no matter their record in the conference.  The 2014 Big Ten Tournament was no different.  While the Illini came up short in a 64-63 loss to Michigan, up until the final second it looked like Illinois was about to make their thirteenth semifinals in the seventeen years of the conference tournament. [Read more...]

Illini beat Hoosiers; Advance to Friday Contest Against Michigan

As an Illini fan, the Big Ten Tournament has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  For some reason, Illinois always seems to have success in the tournament and has put together many great finishes, individual performances, and tournament runs to remember.  A few times, the regular seasons have sucked to wade through and then the Illini redeem themselves with an unexpected tournament run.  The 2014 Big Ten Tournament started today in Indianapolis, and the Illini took the first step in attempting to make the 2014 Big Ten Tournament a tournament to remember for fans with a victory over Indiana in the first round. [Read more...]

Top Five Illini Basketball Hairstyles

I should have done this years ago. Maybe this becomes a regular thing. My wife and kids went to bed, I was finished with work work… it’s blog time.

And I really wasn’t sure what to write about. So I put it out there on Twitter – first person to give me a topic gets it blogged. And then I got about eight responses that I wanted to write about. So maybe this should be a new feature. Twitter grab-bag.

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Because Iowa

Picture it this way. You’re 14 years old. John Groce builds Illini basketball all the way back, and we’re in the Final Four in 2017 right when you’re a senior in high school. You choose to attend Illinois, and head to Champaign expecting the SFC to be your second home. And then a Purdue assistant secretly records your recruits and brings the NCAA to Groce’s doorstep, meaning your college basketball experience is mostly ruined for your four years. How much would you hate Purdue?

That’s why I hate Iowa.

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