People Forget That
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
Five years ago, as Bruce Weber's tenure was winding down, I first wrote about The Stats. My friend Erik has dutifully maintained The Stats over the years, having researched college basketball from every angle to see where we stand as a program. So with another tenure likely winding down, I asked him to send me the updated Stats. Where do we stand, statistically, when compared to the rest of the college basketball world?
It's interesting to go back and read that post. It was February 2012 and my feelings were nearly the same. I even started the post with "I just can't write about yet another loss", which pretty much matches my feelings today. And I referenced how college basketball talking heads had already begun to say that Illini fans "didn't know their place" in the college basketball world (something that seems to be starting up again). We feel you, NC State fan.
So where do we stand today? Statistically, how do we stack up against the rest of the college basketball world? Let's look at Erik's stats, version 5.0:
Through the 2016 season:
+ 14th all time in the NCAA in wins (#12 in winning percentage)
+ #15 (tied) all time in NCAA bids (tied for 2nd in the B1G)
+ #22 all time in NCAA Tournament wins (famously most wins for a team without a title)
+ #14 (tied) all time in Final Fours (tied for ninth-most number of Final Fours)
+ #10 all time in collective AP poll appearances (including: #14 [tied] in weeks at #1, #15 in the top 5, #10 [tied] in the top 10)
+ 2nd all-time in B1G conference wins (4th in winning percentage, though Maryland has a gaudy .722 after just 3 seasons)
+ 5th highest number of B1G conference titles
+ Most B1G Tournament wins (tied) all time (2nd highest [tied] number of championship game appearances, 4th highest [tied] number of titles)
+ Have winning records against every B1G program except Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State
+ Tied for #20 all time in number of McDonald's All-Americans
Before the Iowa game a few weeks ago, I hopped on an Iowa podcast to discuss the upcoming game in Champaign. And I referenced these stats, much to the surprise of the Iowa hosts. The gist: they were more or less "this is a decent season for Illinois, right? Much better than last year" and I was "no, we're a program that ranks 9th nationally in weeks ranked in the AP poll and we need to act like it."
After I said that, I realized that I was quoting Erik's stats from several years ago, so I sent him a text asking for the updates. Were we still 9th? No. But we're 10th.
And I want to focus on those tournament/AP Poll stats here for a bit. Illini basketball fans have every right to demand top-25 rankings and yearly NCAA Tournaments. That is our history, so that must be our future. To wit:
- 12th-best winning percentage in NCAA basketball history
- 14th-most wins in all of NCAA basketball
- 14th-most Final Four appearances (five)
- 10th in all-time AP Poll appearances, including 10th in the number of weeks ranked in the top-10
I need to say this slowly: this is our history even when you include the last 11 seasons. This is what we have fallen to. We used to be 13th in wins, 9th in AP poll appearances, etc etc. Even with these last 11 seasons (where we're 84-108 in the Big Ten - EIGHTY FOUR AND ONE-OH-EIGHT), we're still, statistically, one of the top 12-15 programs in college basketball history.
I imagine that this is how a Tennessee Football fan has felt over the last decade. From 1981 to 2004 - only one losing season. Clearly a top-15 program nationally. From 2005 through 2016 - five losing seasons. 82-69 overall, including 40-56 in the SEC (40 and 56! At Tennessee!). Now, they seem to have things back on track with Butch Jones (although he's 14-18 in the SEC in his four seasons so the fanbase remains restless), but I feel like their experience is our experience. After they went through the Lane Kiffin/Derek Dooley years, their coaching search was filled with the same "are they really that great of a program?" questions we'll be facing.
Their answer (my answer): yes. History matters. The size of the fanbase matters. A good location for recruiting really matters. Down years are down years, but overall, a program finds strength in its history.
And we have an incredible history which includes five final fours (long-term success), a near national title in 2005 (recent success), and decades of consistent tournament appearances (sustained success). Not to mention maybe the single best basketball recruiting hotbed two hours away. There are advantages here that maybe only 15 other college basketball programs can match.
So as we enter "is Illinois really that great of a program?" season, please remember that the answer is a resounding yes. It will always be yes. The last ten years have removed some of the shine, but that always comes right back with the correct polishing compound. The history is there, and that never really goes away.
People forget that.