We're Illinois Basketball
I can't do it. I can't sit here and write yet another post-game autopsy for yet another loss. It's too much. 15-3 to 16-10 can't be put into words (again). It's just too difficult to write. We were Illinois basketball.
Instead, tonight, I fight. As the "Bruce Weber might lose his job" stories finally hit the national media, we see the same reaction: "Illini fans are insane if they think a 209-96 coach isn't good enough". Doug Gottlieb thinks we don't understand our place, Tim Doyle thinks we're getting too big for our britches, blah blah blah. We're always told at times like this that we don't understand our place. Pretty much because Luther's three didn't go down.
So at these moments, I turn to my friend Erik. No Illini fan on the planet is more invested in ILLINOIS BASKETBALL IS AT WORST 14TH AND POSSIBLY 12TH IN TERMS OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL PROGRAMS than Erik. So I sent him a quick email and asked for his updated statistics. I think he sent them back to me in 23 seconds.
Our place, per Erik's stats. We are...
- #13 all time in the NCAA in wins (#12 in winning percentage).
- #11 (tied) all time in NCAA Tourney appearances (2nd in the Big Ten).
- #18 in NCAA Tournament wins (famously most wins for a team without a title)
- #14 (tied) all time in Final Four appearances (tied for the 8th highest total number of appearances)
- #9 all time in collective AP poll appearances (including: #13 in weeks in the top 5, #9 in weeks in the top 10, #8 in seasons in the top 5, #9 in seasons in the top 10, #8 in seasons in the top 25)
- 1st all-time in Big Ten conference wins (3rd in winning percentage)
- 4th highest number of Big Ten titles in the conference
- 6 more Big Ten Tournament wins than any other school, highest number (tied) of championship game appearances, 2nd in Tourney titles
- We own winning records against every Big Ten program except two. Indiana has us beat by 1 game. Purdue is up by 11 games.
- Tied for #18 all-time in number of McDonald's All-Americans (I only mention this as a point that it's also folly to suggest it's unreasonable to expect consistent high-level recruiting, either).
- Sagarin/ESPN has us at #6 all time.
- NBC Sports puts us at #14.
- Basketball Reference has us as the 5th best program in the last 30 years.
- Forbes has us as the 5th most valuable program.
Just take the first five. 13th in all-time wins, 11th in all-time tournament appearances, 18th in all-time tournament wins (with the top-17 all owning at least one NCAA title), 14th in all-time Final Four appearances, and 9th in all-time AP Poll appearances. Add that all together, and you get "at worst 14th, and possibly 12th best college basketball program." To me, that history demands a consistent top-25 ranking, a Sweet 16 every three years, and a program that challenges for Big Ten titles on a consistent basis. Happy with 209-96? Hardly.
And it doesn't stop there. What makes Illinois a top destination for any coach in America? Three things: History (which we just covered), recruiting base, and fanbase.
Because of Chicagoland, the state of Illinois has produced the third-most NBA players all time (behind California and New York). Do I expect Illinois to lock down all of the Chicago talent? Of course not. But no Big Ten team - seriously, no other team - has the recruiting advantage that we do. Dozens of NBA players every generation born only 2 hours from campus.
Fanbase? I've got your fanbase right here. One only needed to be in the Edward Jones Dome in April of 2005 to see that the fanbase can mobilize like few others. North Carolina celebrates their national championship? 13,000 people show up. Illinois celebrates their second place finish? 30,000 show up to Memorial Stadium. This fanbase will not rest until it gets that elusive national title.
And that's it, isn't it? A national title. I can tell you 238 stats that prove that Illinois is a better college basketball program than Georgetown, but Patrick Ewing happened, so Georgetown >> Illinois. Statistically, Illinois beats Michigan State in nearly every category except for one: Michigan State has two national titles, and we have zero. And because of this, Doug Gottlieb and Tim Doyle will continue to look down their nose.
So it's time to do something about it. It's time to return to Illinois Basketball. The new coach in 2012/13 will have a lot to work with. Illinois isn't just top-15 in basketball history - it's currently top-15 in talent (yes, really). There are 7 RSCI top-100 players on this roster, and I believe that's the third most (a few teams have 9, several others have 8, and Illinois is tied with a few others at 7). The cupboard isn't bare. And extremely talented in-state 2013 and 2014 classes await (with two top-100 2013 players already verballed). This is not a rebuild. The talent is there.
But it needs a new leader. Bruce Weber is broken, and all the kings horses and all the kings men have no chance at putting him back together. So when Mike Thomas hits the streets looking for the coach to lead us back, he'll have plenty of ammunition. And if he needs help securing more, he can just call my friend Erik.