Chicago Blues

Dec 06, 2018

"It did get loud tonight, but I'm sure in Champaign it gets louder"

- Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann

On December 11, 2004, Illinois played the Oregon Ducks here in the United Center. A mere 21,224 fans showed up that Saturday afternoon to watch an 83-66 Illini win. A legit sell-out. In his post-game write-up Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey had this to say about the game: "There hasn't been this much excitement for a game at the United Center since Michael Jordan was a Bull".
I can confirm. I was also in attendance and the Madhouse on Madison was straight up rocking that day.

Flash forward 14 years to tonight where a moribund crowd of just over 5000 fans was scattered aimlessly throughout this very same building to watch Ohio State methodically turn a four point half time deficit into what ended up as a rather comfortable 77-67 win for the Buckeyes over Illinois.

The annual United Center game is officially dead, and that makes me immeasurably sad for not long ago it was a can't miss appointment for the huge contingent of Chicago area Illini fans. When the game was announced you circled the calendar and happily agreed to pay whatever damn price they printed on the ticket to come watch. You came downtown, you did some Christmas shopping, you watched Illinois play a marquee opponent in a marquee game, and you usually went home happy.

Now the game is not much more than an afterthought at 6:00 PM on a random Wednesday. Now you buy $20 seats on the day of the game in the upper 300 level and walk down unchallenged to near floor level and sit just about anywhere you want. Now you come watch Illinois struggle against random teams from the Mountain West conference. I guess now at least you can buy whatever volume of beer necessary in which to drown your Illini sorrows. Last year after Illinois lost to New Mexico State in front of a similarly sparse crowd, I politely suggested that it might be time to take a closer look at whether this game was still a good idea. Tonight I'm begging for game to be killed with fire.

While I understand the theoretical importance of the Illinois DIA trying to maintain a presence in the Chicago area, in reality there's no real presence at all. This game (and this goes for football too) generates no buzz with media, fans, or potential recruits. On the contrary, it actually invites negative press. The real story tonight wasn't the game. Yeah Illinois lost again and yeah it's the worst start in 100 and whatever years for the program, but all anyone was talking about before and after the game was the crowd - or rather the lack thereof. No one wants this game any more.

Plus you take away a conference home game on a day when students are in session? Heresy! Those dates should be sacrosanct. If the powers that be ultimately believe that a yearly Chicago basketball game remains necessary, then at least do it in January over winter break so the negative effect on the home court is mitigated at least somewhat.

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann demurred when asked after the game if he thought there was a real home court advantage for Illinois in this game - giving a politically correct non-answer instead about how much respect he has for the program and its fans.

Asked the same question Illinois coach Brad Underwood also danced around the subject saying that "people other than me should probably answer that one", but then unprompted he went ahead anyway and said how much he was looking forward to the 15000 people he anticipated being in attendance for this Saturday's game at the State Farm Center vs UNLV.

He also had this to say after the game about the future of the program: "When this hits, when it turns - it's going to be something really really special". So let's make a deal...when it turns - when it's special again, sign me right back up because I want this game to be great, and I want to be here to again witness 20,000 in orange rock this place.

But for now - let's just not.

Actual Basketball Thoughts:

+ Tonight was a big step backwards from the Illini newcomers. Only 18 of the 67 Illini points scored tonight were from the new roster additions, and only 10 of those points (5 from Ayo and 5 from Giorgi B) were from freshmen. With a ratio like that you're just basically just seeing last year's team on repeat.

+ Ayo has to be better for this team to be successful. He's only made 7 of his last 31 shots over the past three games. Plus with only 7 assists over the same stretch - he's not been impacting the game in other areas either. He's going to be on the floor, so hopefully he emerges from this funk sooner than later.

+ Adonis De La Rosa is not helping things right now. He was -13 in just five minutes of play. Now I'm not usually a big fan of the "plus/minus" stat, but if you watched the game, you know that's a fairly accurate statistical representation of his impact on the contest.

+ #GoodKipper !

+ The Illini made just 9 of 22 shots at the rim tonight. Not. Good. Enough. After Underwood was hired I watched a video of him running a practice at Oklahoma State during which he implored: "YOU'RE GROWN MEN - MAKE A LAY-UP!". That's probably good advice for this Illini team moving forward.

+ I am seeing some encouraging signs from the defense. In these first two conference games Nebraska and Ohio State combined to shoot only 51% on two point attempts. That's acceptable. Now if you can stop sending teams to the foul line (48 made FTs allowed in the last two games) maybe you start to have something.

+ The Illini host UNLV this Saturday and if there is such a thing as a must win game for a 2-7 team, this game is indeed that.


1970 John on December 06 @ 06:03 AM CST

If we were still in the area, we would have been there in Orange last night. As it is, we'll be at Madison Square Garden for what Maryland is calling a "home game." Who at Maryland thought that was a good idea? Manhattan is a four hour drive from College Park, sans traffic, twice as far as Champaign to the United Center. Sure, you can take the train, but still, it's not your home. And it's not like there are more Maryland people in New York City metro than there are Illinois people in, well, four hours of Chicago. It's a re-do of last year's "Super Saturday," and at least Maryland is a lot closer to MSG than Ohio State or Minnesota. It would make more sense to play Rutgers vs Maryland at MSG. You might get more than the 5,000 butts in seats the 2018 fiasco brought in.

illini82 on December 06 @ 07:15 AM CST

This program is dead. Interest is dead. The season on December 5 is already dead with no hope of post season play and it’s to the point that hope might be dead as well for next season and beyond. The possibility exists that this team may only win 3 or 4 more games or maybe not even that. How do recruit to that? How do you sell tickets? Underwood’s one and only “commitment “ hasn’t signed an LOI nor visited campus. We know they are terribly undermanned, undersized and young but the same issues and mistakes keep occurring game after game on both defense and offense and especially the fouling. At what point do you say Underwood’s system doesn’t work or that he’s too stubborn to adjust to the talent he has on the floor. So let’s say we end up with only 6 or 7 wins or less and we have defections of key players next year such as Trent or Ayo or kipper or even Tevian and griffin with no one signed or on the radar for the 2019 class? How can or could you stay with a coach that has taken the program to unheard of abysmal and historical depths? Is the unwritten rule of giving a coach at least 3 years that untouchable especially if no relief i.e. talented recruits are anywhere in sight let alone signed or committed? This was a risky hire as recruiting was a major question mark and it looks like his coaching is suspect as well. I never thought that just one year and 3 weeks into a coaches tenure that I would already be wanting a change but that’s where I am. Yes playing in Chicago is a mistake and should be stopped for the time being. But I see a bigger mistake wearing a suit and sitting on the bench.

orangejulius on December 06 @ 02:35 PM CST

I agree and you have to dump Underwood at the end of the season unless he miraculously turns around recruiting. He even admits that recruiting is not his forte. I'm sure he'd be great with a talented roster, but does anyone believe he can accomplish that? The proof is in the pudding. At this point he has one kid committed, not even signed, for next season who is a substantial risk not to qualify, and he's not even a top 100 recruit.. On top of a lackluster 2017 class, that's just pathetic. How many of the current players on the roster are of at least average big ten quality? 4 at best? We've got 1 RSCI Top 100 player, and that's it.

I still like Josh Whitman and thinking back, Underwood wasn't his first choice. He did well to get him from Ok St. but the guy just doesn't look like the right fit. Maybe you've got a chance to get Hoiberg if he wants to come back to college.

iluvrt on December 06 @ 03:24 PM CST

Losing is bad. But I don't see how revolving coaches helps at this point in either football or BB

uofi08 on December 06 @ 04:04 PM CST

Worst narrative going. Bill Cubit was literally the only "revolving" coach situation in either sport in recent history. That being said, I'm not confident in Underwood, but I'm not ready to jump to conclusions either. We need to see how the entire season plays out, as well as how he finishes the recruiting class.

Sweetchuck13 on December 06 @ 03:55 PM CST

Amen. Thanks for saying it Walkon - this game needs to go away for awhile. I was at the very first UC Illini game in 1994 and have attended several since. Like you said, it was always a highlight game against a top echelon team. It was our little statement that we were a top flight program that could host a game and fill a pro arena. Not to mention it was always fun seeing our Chicago players get some extra excitement from playing on the Bulls' court.

Clearly we're not there any more. Let's just put this one aside and bring it back in a few years when we can schedule a game with UCLA, Oregon, Duke, Kansas, Arizona, etc. with a straight face and know there will be 20,000+ Illini fans in attendance to make it a "home" game.

It should've been set aside a few years ago when we started playing teams like Georgia, Auburn, and then Bradley and UIC. But it's beyond obvious now and just painful - please let it go JW.

Illinimac68 on December 06 @ 04:01 PM CST

The loss to UIC that Weber excused by telling us his student-athletes had to be students the week before was my breaking point. As to this game itself, are we counting the one-hand set shot general tosses in the area of the basket as "shots at the rim?" Because I saw enough of those to make me tired of them real fast. Take it up and use the backboard.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on December 07 @ 08:04 AM CST

This game is awful. We need to stop it.

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