It Was Fun While It Lasted
"We honestly control our own destiny! Has a team that started 3-10 in conference ever controlled its own at-large destiny? At that point, every team is simply looking at winning their postseason tournament to get in, but somehow, we actually have a chance to win two games and sneak into an at-large".
Oh. Right. That.
After the Michigan State game, I let myself consider it all. If 8-10 with one BTT win got us in last year (as a seven seed), 8-10 with one BTT win in a weaker conference with weaker quality wins wouldn't get us a seven seed, but it might get us in the door this year. Final week of the season, and we needed a senior night win and another road surprise to get through the door. Somehow, it was "win this, win that, get in".
And then Michigan started the Assembly Hall renovations 12 hours early. I mean, they wrecked the place. 16-23 from three? SEVENTY PERCENT from three? I went out on this limb on Twitter: I'm not sure I'll see anything like it the rest of my life. I'm fairly certain if I live another 40 years on this earth, I won't see a team shoot 70% from three with more than 20 attempts. Maybe some team some day might go 4 for 5 or something, but once you get to 20 attempts, nobody hits 70%.
I referenced the 2003 Notre Dame game on Twitter a few times. If you're too young to remember (seriously, a freshman at UIUC was SEVEN when that game happened), we had a pretty solid team in 2002/03. We had lost a fair bit after 2002, but three freshmen named Dee, Deron, and Augie combined with Brian Cook to give us a really solid team. We were a four-seed in the dance (remember when that was a regular thing?), and we beat a plucky Western Kentucky team in the first round, setting up a second round matchup with 5-seed Notre Dame (who had barely beaten the 12-seed in the first round).
I was at a wedding in Florida, and I spent that afternoon sitting on the end of a hotel bed screaming at the television as Danny Miller hit three after three after three. Notre Dame hit 11 of 16 threes in the first half and we never recovered.
But this game was a better performance than that. Michigan was 11 for 14 in the first half. That's insane.
Someone on Twitter brought up the Indiana game in 2002. Indiana went crazy from deep (17 for 27 in the game) and blew us out by 30. What I remember from that game: Someone on SI.com (I think it was Grant Wahl, but it might have been Luke Winn) had picked 10 teams in January that might win it all. And Illinois was one of them. But after we lost to Indiana by 30+, he removed Illinois from his list, saying no team that loses by that much has any chance at a title. Probably true, but I might have sent him an angry letter or something. I wasn't very emotionally stable back then. It's a good thing Twitter didn't exist yet.
I thought that game (at Indiana) was the best shooting performance I had seen - IU hit 63% from deep - and then Michigan hits SEVENTY PERCENT tonight. Remember the Creighton/Villanova game from earlier this year? Creighton started out something like 9-9 from three and ended up blowing out #4 Villanova by 30 at Villanova? In that game, Creighton shot a ridiculous 60% from three. Tonight, Michigan hit SEVENTY PERCENT. Yep - I'll never see anything like it.
Was it defense? Partly. Once they started hitting everything, it felt like we didn't really care about closing out anymore. Maybe it's just because every shot fell, but it felt like they were getting open looks whenever they wanted them (after four games where we gave up very few). But that might just be because everything fell. Michigan State had a few open looks on Saturday, and they missed them all, so shots falling does change the outlook on things like that. Especially when you hit SEVENTY PERCENT.
OK, so now what? I still don't think the NIT is a real possibility. When they switched to the "we're the next 32 teams on the list, including regular season conference champions" thing, it seems like 19-14 Richmond always gets the nod over 17-15 Illinois when that used to not be the case. The NIT used to salivate over bigger names missing the dance - just get to .500 and you're in - but that hasn't been the case for several years now. I think we'd have to beat Iowa to have a chance at the NIT. And I don't see that happening.
So CBI it is. On the road for every game. Including, if we make the final, three straight road games at the opponent's arena. We have the worst luck when we're bad.
A few more thoughts:
+ I know the Orange Krush missed the Indiana and Penn State wins at home (games were over break), so that must mean... the Orange Krush attended one home Big Ten win this season? The Orange Krush attended one home Big Ten win this season. Let that sink in. I'll help.
A student who arrived in the fall of 2000 and was on the five year plan (5YP represent! 12 hours per semester RULZ) would have graduated seeing only two home losses in those five years. A student who arrived this fall has already seen six home losses. I can't even. I just can't.
+ Kendrick Nunn tho.
Did I do that right? I'm gonna call my son downstairs for a consult. I think when you shorten it to "tho" you're supposed to use it in that context, but I'm not sure if I pulled it off. Here's what I'm trying to say.
The last month, those three words pretty much describe Illini basketball. "Another tough loss. Kendrick Nunn, though..." 14 points tonight, going to the right hand when they shaded him left, some great defense where he kept his chest in front of his man and made us all think of BP3 - that kid is the future. I can't stand Dan Dakich, but then he'll talk about how Nunn is a future star in the Big Ten and he's my favorite commentator.
I think it's maybe time for this dicussion: I've talked a lot on here the last few years about how we're so overdue for a guy to completely outplay his ranking. A Cory Bradford who wasn't a top-100 recruit but then set records here. Or a James Augustine who was ranked around #75 but played like a top-25 recruit. It's been a while since we had a Roy Devyn Marble or a Frank Kaminsky.
Is maybe Nunn that guy? Ranked outside the top-50 (#57 RSCI) but will end up on a couple All Big Ten teams? Maybe. Long way to go. But he's certainly been great the last month. Really excited for the next few years.
+ All in all, this was as reality check as a reality check gets. I went into this game thinking that Michigan's unstoppable force (#2 offense nationally) and our immovable object (last four opponents under 50) would clash in this epic Senior Night. And then a big slap to the face reminding me that Michigan has been put up those numbers over the entire season while we've just been doing this the last few weeks. There's a reason they're at the top and we're at the bottom.
And that's also our clear goal. I wrote a post a few months ago about how Michigan is the blueprint for us. Their program stagnated under Amaker the way our program stagnated under Weber (the numbers were eerily similar, with Amaker owning just a few more wins than Weber over their last five seasons). So if we're going to build back to where we want to be, we'll need to follow what John Beilein has done.
Tonight we were reminded that Michigan is five years further down the road. Which means we have a long road ahead. The State Farm Center renovations start in a few hours and will run for three years. Let's hope that when they're complete, we're Michigan.