Still Digging

Jan 11, 2018

I almost didn't come. There's going to be ice on my car when I get out there, and I'm going to chase that ice all the way back to St. Louis where it's sleeting right now. I knew that weather was coming but I wanted to attend a win. I didn't attend a win.

All of that confidence I had after the Michigan game? Gone. That prediction I made in the post last night (6-5 in the next 11 games)? LOL. I said I feared 5-13 before the Big Ten season began, and now I fear 2-16.

After this, I'm just not sure when we win a Big Ten game? At Nebraska no, at Wisconsin no, Michigan State at home no chance. So that's an 0-8 start with ten games remaining. Indiana and Rutgers come to Champaign after that - surely we win one of those, right?

Man, all that confidence I had after Michigan is just absolutely gone. I felt like I could see where this thing was headed, and now there's ice all over the windshield.

I mean, shoot 14-30 from three against the worst team in the conference at home AND LOSE. This Iowa team lost at Virginia Tech by 24, lost back to back games against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State... and they just came into Champaign and put up 100 points on the road for the first time since 1988 (that stat courtesy of the Iowa radio guys still giddy and celebrating to my left).

I mean, I get it. Fouls were everything. We're all going insane after Trent tied it at the buzzer (me on the inside since I'm on press row) and then we all had the same moment (probably): oh crap, we have three guys who fouled out and are going into overtime completely short-handed. Then a fourth fouled out (Da'Monte) and, with Te'Jon in street clothes, we were down to five players. Had anyone else fouled out - either Matic Vesel or Drew Cayce comes in I guess?

So yeah, I get it. Smith, Black, and Alstork all had the flu and haven't practiced the last three days. Four guys foul out and Eboigbodin just flat forgets to box out on a huge free throw - these are things that happen to freshmen who have played 85 total minutes all season and then have to play 25 minutes tonight. There are going to be growing pains all season. We've discussed this at length.

But goodness me, losing to 9-9 Iowa at home is just so hard to stomach. We're truly awful - likely the worst team in the Big Ten - and I don't think any of us expected that. My personal journey:

October: "The media picked us 12th in the Big Ten? 12th? What in the world?"
November: "Oh, right, 12th is probably spot on."
December: "BEAT MIZNOZ"
January: "Man we're not even 12th. Probably 14th. FOURTEENTH."

I mean, I had JUST reached a good point with this season. We nearly beat Michigan, we could start to see what this team might be capable of, Michigan fans are all "so weird to see a well-coached Illinois team"... and then we just lay an egg tonight. 20 point lead and then fall apart. At home.

How many times am I going to write this post? I've been blogging for nearly nine years now and I've never written about a significant Illinois team. Right now we've lost 12-straight Big Ten football games and 7-straight Big Ten basketball games. We are, without a doubt, the worst Power Five program in the country when you combine football and basketball.

And yet here I am, setting up my work schedule so I can drive to Champaign in an ice storm and watch us blow a 20-point lead to 9-9 (0-5) Iowa.

But enough about me. You're suffering the same thing. This building was as dead as I've ever heard it with a 20 point lead - as I tweeted at halftime, every single person in this building expected Iowa to come back - and I can't blame anyone for feeling that way. Yell? Scream? It's so impossibly hard to do when you know those screams won't be rewarded. I totally get it.

Is this rock bottom? I gave up that game a long time ago. I declared it after we didn't make the NIT in 2012. I declared it after the 2013 football season ended at 4-8 and the basketball season fell just short after Tracy's three. I declared it when Cubit was extended. But I'm done declaring. We've been digging for a decade now, and we still haven't found the bottom.

Please, someone, anyone - stop the digging and start the climbing.


phytynlini on January 12 @ 05:05 AM CST

"so you just go on ahead and stamp that form there, sonny, and stop wasting my damn time. Truth is, I don't give a shit." -Illini fan base.

ATOillini on January 12 @ 08:38 AM CST

It's funny. When we were leading the entire first half by mid to high teens I kept saying to myself "the only thing that's even keeping Iowa in the game at all is free throws". They were 14-14 in that half. Turned out to be a bad omen.

But more importantly I somewhat presciently posted the following comment at 4:51 yesterday afternoon in your Back & Forth post:

"And I'll finish with my broken record statement.....please, please recruit a good big man or two. I watched an NCAA women's volleyball semifinal a couple weeks ago and both teams were bigger than our men's basketball team."

When you play a 45 minute game and your leading rebounder only has 5, it's probably not a good thing.

AHSIllini32 on January 12 @ 10:22 AM CST

Game was frustrating, no doubt. I still think we need to be careful to make too many grand statements after individual games, though.

I said before this season that I fully expected there to be games we lose that we have no business losing but by the end of the year we'll have a handful of games we've won that we probably didn't expect to get us excited for next year. So far those losses are Wake Forest (sort of, first game on the road against a power-5 team and all that), NW and now Iowa.

Missouri is the one win we have right now that probably wasn't expected. They'll be more. I've some people already starting to question if Underwood can be successful here. That's asinine to me.

Sweetchuck13 on January 12 @ 10:29 AM CST

Not sure why you think Nebraska and Wisconsin are sure losses. Neither of them has been very impressive yet. I keep thinking we're close to finally cracking through and getting a win...and then maybe we'll see a good shooting streak and go on a mini-run.

It's frustrating, but this isn't the Groce era where we know up front we have no chance against some teams. We can play with nearly anyone - just have to break through and win one.

And the defense continues to be an issue too. When have we ever given up 100 points to a visiting team at SFC/AH? As much as I enjoy the ball pressure and turnovers, I wonder if we might see a similar defensive adjustment as Underwood famously made last year at Ok St? We just can't handle the rotations once the initial pressure is beaten.

Illiniiniowa on January 12 @ 10:54 AM CST

Hide the sharp objects from Robert. I hate losing to Iowa, but nothing yesterday changed my mind about the process. We are the worst P5 program and we've got at least 12 more months (and possibly 24) before we make significant progress out of this hole, but look on the bright side Robert, at least we don't have degrees from Iowa.

AHSIllini32 on January 12 @ 11:12 AM CST

Are you saying the basketball program is the worst power 5 program and will be for another 12-24 months or that the major revenue sports are and that's their timeline, illiniiniowa?

Illiniiniowa on January 12 @ 11:51 AM CST

I meant that football + basketball are the worst P5 and will be for another 12-24 months, but I believe the arrow is pointing up and we will climb.

Illiniiniowa on January 12 @ 11:54 AM CST

Also, we shouldn't ignore non-revenue programs that are having success. Emery Parker is looking like an All-American in wrestling in addition to Imar and there are some underclassmen starting that look to have bright futures. Volleyball had a great season this year and we can always count on #golfschool

Norcal Illini on January 12 @ 03:41 PM CST

The trend of having the other team shoot 30+ free throws has to stop somehow, if we ever want to win a game. The way we play defense is going to lead to more fouls, but it seems like there is more to it than that.

Lou-a-villini on January 12 @ 06:25 PM CST

I got really quiet in the middle of the first half.....because I was letting out sighs of relief. What an idiot I was!!

HailToTheOrange on January 13 @ 03:46 PM CST

Look I get it. It's impossible as an Illini basketball fan to watch the juxtaposition between that pretty awesome first half and yet another half where we squander a lead. But you know what? I have the same mentality that Robert wrote about earlier on in the football season. I have absolutely no expectations that this super young team learning a complicated scheme is going to be successful this year. When you have that mindset it's easier to stay positive. And I think that's the mindset you have to have this season. I can't say I'm immune to feeling frustration when we're so close at times, when we should be pulling things out and don't, when our flashes of brilliance quickly turn to floundering. But my frustration is short-lived, at least this season. I'm still optimistic. A true freshman scoring 27. That awesome first half dish from Mark. Jordan returning to form (and actually getting to the hoop). Eboigbodin's continued progress. Da'Monte's athleticism. It still points upwards. I empathize with you Robert. Covering a program mired in mediocrity for a decade is just so much to swallow, especially when you're passionate and terrifically loyal. But this game -and the rest on the schedule - won't change my outlook on next year. I think perhaps you just need a date to circle on the calendar like you did for Lovie and crew. I'm still betting it'll be in late 2018/early '19.

HailToTheOrange on January 13 @ 03:54 PM CST

Oh, and a coach who can actually make that I have infinitely more confidence in than his predecessor. That's probably the main source of hopefulness. I had next to none at the beginning of last season (despite Hill, Mav, Tracy, JCL, etc) or the previous two seasons for that matter because I had 0 faith in the ability of the man at the helm. Thank you JW...bc I don't feel that way any more.

1970 John on January 14 @ 01:57 PM CST

Call me a blue-eyed optimist because, like, I am. And I'm anything but a basketball expert. But I can feel there's something about to happen. And yeah, I shared that oh-my-gosh-we're-doubling-their-score-don't-lose-it-Illini. And then the balloon started to shrink.

But there's that that-close vibe I'm picking up, largely through Coach U's frustration. If he believes this team is that close, then I can too.

Anyway, at this point I feel like Tom Hanks in League of Their Own where he throws that baseball glove at the kid who keeps saying, "You're gonna lose." One of these games I'm gonna plug that kid too. Don't be that kid-> You're gonna lose. (Man, I love seeing that kid drop.

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