A Good Problem

When writing about the future of basketball, lately I find myself saying the phrase “then you add Cosby, Paul, Starks, Black, and Finke…” a lot. That’s the hope, right? We lose two guys, add five guys, including three transfers who might be more ready to contribute than freshmen, so the team should be significantly better. Let’s dig into that math.

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1LL1N01S

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You are now reading Version Two of this post. Version One was never published. Because as I was writing Version One, someone on Illinois Loyalty cracked the code to the Nike website (they had all of the pictures there, just hidden from public view), and suddenly every photo of every uniform to be revealed in 20 hours was out there in public view.

I debated linking them here, realized that some people are vigilant about not opening presents until Christmas Day, so I decided to only link one photo here. Because even though someone at Nike is getting a demotion for putting up photos that the public could find, I don’t feel like being a ruiner.

For those who want to see them, just go to the front page at Illinois Loyalty. For those that want to be surprised at 7:00 pm, I’m only opening one present this Christmas Eve – the picture of the alternate gray basketball uniform above. Because I want to talk about the logo.

I’ll start here: I’m curious if some people will start writing “1LL1N01S” just like they write “B1G”, because the top left serif on our new font is certainly prominent (and makes it look like a 1). Someone else on some message board I read pointed out that there are six letters that get that serif: I-L-L-I-N-I. OK, I can work with that.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts on this whole thing, you know what I’ll say next: I’m thrilled that we’ll have a font that carries across letters and numbers. I’ve wanted a Michigan State-type scenario with this whole rebrand, and it looks like we’re getting a font which provides that. Here’s what I mean by “Michigan State scenario”:

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See how it’s a unique font with a unique feature that carries across the letters and numbers? Love that. Wanted that. Am getting that. The “I” in “ILLINOIS” and the 1 in the number “13″ on Tracy Abrams’ jersey match? I think I kind of really dig that.

It’s a popular thing with rebrands. Here’s what (gross) Mizzou did (yuck) when they rebranded (puke):

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See how they also get that little wedge serif on the side of the letters and numbers? That’s what we get. And we get it on the football jersey and the basketball jersey and the baseball jersey and everywhere else. An I that looks like a 1? It will be everywhere. Starting tomorrow.

How do I feel about it? Not completely sure yet. My very first reaction when I saw it for the first time was “is that a bunch of ones? Like, ‘we’re number one’?” Give me a week to think about it. I disliked the B1G logo at first – I was one of those “you pay six figures for THAT?” people – but now I love it and think that the Pac12 and SEC look like logos from 1997. So now, with this logo, I’m at “think I really like?” but not sure. I’m guessing that by June I love it.

Which is why you hire a Nike. They hire the best and the brightest designers, you walk into their office, you say “we don’t have an eye for these things”, they give you what will look good for 10 years, and you accept it at face value. At least, that’s how I’m approaching this. I still think my pleated khakis look good. (Wait, are pleats out or back in? Back out? See what I mean?) I don’t have a good eye for these things, so if Nike says it’s cool, I think it’s cool.

(And I showed some of the football stuff to my football-crazy son. His response was what I was hoping for: those are sooo siick”,)

Where I’m hung up with this logo is the endzone. How will that read in the endzones? From the side, will it just look like 1LL1N01S? A bunch of ones and zeros with some letters? (We ARE a solid computer science school…)

And how close does that “01″ in 1LL1N01S” look like the General Lee? Were Bo and Luke Duke involved? WAIT – the General Lee is orange. If John Groce doesn’t emerge from the General Lee at Midnight Madness next year, I’m gonna be upset.

OK, I need to get to bed. I have a long drive to Champaign tomorrow night to see some uniforms that made it 15 inches from the finish line before being leaked. My sister showed me where my parents hide the presents, and I feel bad for looking, so now I’m going to act really surprised tomorrow.

And probably fall in love with “1LL1N01S” by 7:15.

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...]