Um, this Braggin' Rights streak was kind of all we had left. Football has gone 9-27 the last three seasons. Basketball might only win nine games this season. Everything is awful, but at least we have this five game winning streak over Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game.
We no longer have a five game winning streak over Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game. It will be impossible for me to explain to you what that means for an Illini fan living in St. Louis, but it is not a good thing. It is the worst of things. The only way I can describe it is if you're a Bears fan, living in Green Bay, and the Packers beat the Bears, and you won't play again for another year, and everyone you work with and socialize with is a Packers fan who will let you hear about it constantly for the next 365 days. If you've never met a Missouri fan, they're like Packers fans, only worse. And yes, I realize that Packers fans are awful.
So that should be fun.
This was the first Braggin' Rights loss I've attended since 1998, so that's good I guess. One note: I didn't attend any Braggin' Rights games (nor did I watch them on TV) from 1999 through 2014 (the game meant too much, I had to quit). I guess I did have a nice little streak going, attending the last four wins. But that's over now. And it's the Braggin' Rights game, so Missouri is a lock to win next year. When you win one in this series, you win four for some reason. Missouri will now win four in a row, and then Illinois will win nine straight. It's just how this series has gone since 1982.
And, honestly, it kind of does feel like Missouri will win four straight here, right? What about that game suggests we would win next year? Mizzou's juco energy guy (now a senior) Jordan Geist will graduate I guess? Tilmon will still dominate in the paint, and I think that will be the story of the next two games as well.
Which is just so hard to stomach. I mean, look at the last five years for each program:
2014/15: 9-23 (Anderson)
2015/16: 10-21 (Anderson)
2016/17: 8-23 (Anderson)
2017/18: 20-12, NCAA Tournament (Martin)
2018/19: 8-3 (Martin)
2014/15: 19-14 (Groce)
2015/16: 15-19 (Groce)
2016/17: 20-15 (Groce)
2017/18: 14-18 (Underwood)
2018/19: 4-8 (Underwood)
I mean, throw everything out and that's just an alarming trend, right? Cuonzo's 2018 was seen as "he added the top high school player in the country" (Michael Porter Jr.), but that high school player only played in four games - Cuonzo got to the tournament without him. Think about that. He takes an 8-23 team, adds Porter's younger brother Jontay, steals Tilmon from us, and goes from 8 wins to 20 wins.
On the orange side of the river? A 20-win team in 2017 (counting two NIT wins, mind you) turns into a 14-win team turns into a... 9-win team this year? I get the roster turnover thing (and understand the "why" behind it). I didn't even expect a winning season this year. But just look at those two trends above. That's alarming.
Then add to that the optics. Oh, you know, things like...
- The coach playing his walkon son in front of scholarship players, and then one of those scholarship players' parents calling out the coach on Twitter.
- The coach parting ways with Javon Pickett when he was hired. It happens a lot - point guard Jalen James had signed his Illinois LOI, just like Pickett had, and when John Groce was hired, James and Groce went their separate ways - but we went into last season with two open scholarships, which meant that Brad Underwood preferred an open scholarship to Javon Pickett. And then Javon Pickett put up 16 points last night.
- In what most everyone described as "the most important recruiting class for Illinois basketball in years", the November signing period came and went without a single Illinois Letter Of Intent. The one verbal commit (Antwan January), for whatever reason, chose not to sign and will not be able to sign until April.
- Even the rankings are appalling. Iowa is ranked. Nebraska is ranked. Not only do we have to deal with a likely single-digit-wins season, it is happening while others surge well beyond us. Which likely points to recruiting getting worse. Which just continues the downward spiral.
I've stopped searching for rock bottom. I mean, this feels lower than anything I can remember - the very last thing I had to hang on to (this Braggin' Rights streak) is gone, so there's nothing left - but I've learned that it can still get worse. Like, I'm now expecting a 9-24 (4-16) season and saying "but it might still be worse than that".
Dark times, man.
+ At this point, I'm not sure why there isn't a 2016 football flip happening. About halfway through that football season, after beginning the season with 14 seniors in the starting lineup, Lovie made the flip to playing all of the freshmen as many minutes as he could. At defensive tackle, for example, Tymir Oliver and Kenyon Jackson started getting more snaps than seniors Chunky Clements and Robbie Bain. The idea was that the season was already over, so the best thing for the program would be to get experience for the freshmen. Giving Stanley Green the starting spot at free safety would do more for the rebuild than continuing to start Taylor Barton.
So I'm not sure I understand Adonis De La Rosa over Samba Kane last night. I get the "seniors stabilize things" part of it, but the season is over. Shouldn't the focus right now be 100% next year and beyond? Shouldn't the goal for this January be "as many minutes possible for Griffin, Kane, and Jones"? I just don't understand anything right now.
+ I feel for Trent, man. The game starts out, and it's chippy (the early techs for Ayo and Jordan Geist were needed - it was going to get out of hand fast), and Trent is right there, draining threes and screaming and keeping his team in the game (both on the physical scoreboard and the mental scoreboard). And he gets zero help. There's carrying your team, and then there's whatever Trent did last night.
It felt like there are only three offensive levers right now.
- Trent, please just go score however you can. No need to pass.
- Giorgi, as long as the refs don't call your elbow hook, go use those nifty post moves to score in the paint.
- AJ, if you're open, hit some threes.
That's it, right? Kipper has been better but not good enough. Feliz can score in the lane but gets his shot blocked a lot. Ayo is in a freshman funk. De La Rosa probably isn't going to provide any offense. Griffin and Jones aren't playing. Tyler Underwood hasn't provided anything. Da'Monte just can't get shots to fall.
So yeah, Trent, please score at least 30 per game. We have nothing else right now.
+ It's so strange to be out of the Tournament by Braggin' Rights. Season is over. There's zero hope for some dramatic Big Ten run. This is the earliest I've ever realized that a season is 100%, completely over. OVER over. I can usually cling to something through January and February but this year?