Jan 10, 2019

I mean, look. We're not going to beat the #2 team in the country when we're 4-11. I knew this driving up here. I was trying to think of a more futile basketball game in the last 35 years and honestly, I think this was it. This will be the worst Illini season of my lifetime, and when you play #2 during your worst season in 40+ years, yes, that wins the futility award. There have been plenty of futile games across the street, but none like this in this building.

Now, we've probably been bigger home underdogs. I want to say we played a top-3 Michigan State team here during one of those 13 or 14 win seasons and the line was somewhere around 12-14. The line tonight was "only" 9, and Michigan probably isn't really the second-best team in the country. They simply haven't lost yet (and haven't really played anyone). They beat Villanova when they were #8, but Nova is now unranked. Basically, they've beaten #12 North Carolina and #22 Indiana, both in Ann Arbor. My guess - they finish the season ranked #6 or #7.

But that didn't change my feeling of futility. This isn't "one of those 13 or 14 win seasons" - this is likely a 6 or 7 win season. And even if you're playing the #7 team, when you're this bad, and when you've been as good as Illinois has been for as long as Illinois has been good (21 tournament appearances in 25 years from 1983 to 2007), then yes, Futility Award.

Again, I'm just referencing home games. Was scanning my brain for another game that felt this "there's just zero chance we win tonight" on my way to Champaign. In my entire fandom, honestly, I feel like my feelings have said "we're totally winning tonight" when entering this building 94% of the time. I've been nervous, and I've been worried about unranked Penn State teams coming to town, but I've almost always walked in thinking we'd win. We're at home. We're Illinois. I know that's long gone now, but still, it's so hard to adjust. I'm generally a hopeful guy, so futility feels so weird.

I don't really have a point here. It's just such a weird feeling. I'm beyond "we probably won't win so I'll just watch the freshmen and hope for the future" and now I just sit here and stare off into the distance. I should just get to some bullet points.

+ I probably should have known this going in, but I was really surprised that Michigan only has a six man rotation. Normally, you're not going to find the #2 team with only six players in the rotation. But here were Michigan's minutes tonight:

Poole 39
Simpson 38
Teske 33
Matthews 32
Brazdeikis 31
Livers 23
Brooks 4
Davis 2

I honestly can't think of the last Illini opponent to have five guys put up 30+ minutes in a game. Whoever it was, they certainly weren't the #2 team in the country. I think I'll pick against Michigan in the Tournament just based on this fact. You always have to have a bench come March. Always.

+ I tweeted this, but I'm looking for #content here so I'll add it to the post. Illinois played 10 guys tonight, but really it was an 8-man rotation (Griffin played 3 minutes and Jones played 2 - they were the 9th and 10th guys). Which means that the Illinois rotation was 2 seniors (AJ and ADLR), 2 juniors (Kipper and Feliz), 2 sophomores (Trent and Da'Monte), and 2 freshmen (Giorgi and Ayo). Four upperclassmen, four underclassmen. Here's how the stats broke down:

Upperclassmen: 16 points, 6 rebounds
Underclassmen: 53 points, 24 rebounds

Now that the season is over (I mean, it was over before it started, but it's OVER over), I think I want to see a lot more of this. I want Tevian Jones to take as many minutes as he can from Kipper Nichols and I want Alan Griffin to take as many minutes as he can from Aaron Jordan. Nichols and Jordan both give us more, obviously, but I'm 1000% focused on the future. We'll need Jones, and we'll need Griffin, so get them on the court as much as possible.

+ Speaking of "the season is over", is it? I mean technically. It's over, obviously, but are we technically eliminated? We have 12 losses, and we'll lose a BTT game, so we're locked into 13 losses before the Tournament. Does that... does that mean if we were to win out in the regular season (15 wins in a row), we'd still be on the wrong side of the bubble?

Oh God, now this is all I can think about. Are we eliminated from the Tournament on January 10th? No way. I mean, we'd be 15-5 in a really good Big Ten. We'd totally be in at 19-12 (13 losses after the BTT).

(Stay with me. I'm not saying we're going to win 15 games. I'm doing the "the Orioles are 61 games out and were eliminated from the playoffs on August 19th" thing. The Orioles were "eliminated" from the postseason before the season began. But I think they set some record for earliest date actually eliminated from the playoffs.)

Let's talk this out. Obviously, if we won the Big Ten Tournament, we'd be in. So let's assume we win out and then lose in the first round of the BTT. When are we eliminated?

I think the answer is the Iowa game on Sunday the 20th. If we lose to Minnesota next Wednesday, our record in my "win out after that" scenario would be 18-14. 18-14 (14-6) probably still gets us in. But I'm pretty sure that 17-15 (13-7) is out. Heck, 18-14 might be out.

So yes - we'll be eliminated from the Tournament either next Wednesday or the following Sunday. Eliminated on January 20th. That's just... wow.

Futility Award indeed.


MuckFichigan92 on January 11 @ 01:43 AM CST

I would be damned if I found a model from AA but Beilein might show our troops promise. Recruit nationally before sniffing locally. Find players, e.g. Frazier, who will play despite not having a 708 or 312 area code.

Hit on the recruits then the wins follow. Garner enough wins then the interest folllows. Spread that interest across as decade and that in-state pipeline has been restored.

FlyinIllini22 on January 11 @ 10:12 AM CST

Anybody remember the betting line when Jerry Gee and the boys beat Duke in Cameron Indoor?

uofi08 on January 11 @ 11:01 AM CST

With the season basically over, and this is not necessarily game specific, and probably a better question for walkon, but I’m curious on what next years team is gonna look like schematically? It seems like everyone talks about Underwood’s system as being up tempo with lots of long athletic wings and good shooters. Next year’s roster will have a lot of talent but, as of now, a very different look from what we’ve been led to believe it should look like. We’ll have Tevian and Griffin on the wings (maybe Kipper), but we’ll also have a lot of experienced guards that aren’t really shooters (DMW, Ayo, Felix) and a lot of bigs that are pure bigs (Kofi, January, Kane, Georgi). I just have trouble seeing those bigs pressure and switch on D. And I have no idea how the offense will look with 2 bigs and guards that don’t shoot consistently from 3.

IBFan on January 11 @ 01:35 PM CST

We need Kipper to get as many minutes as possible so he can continue his growth and hopefully get to some higher levels of his potential. Kipper will start next year and we need all the good Kipper we can get. Aaron Jordan has given everything to this program and has earned his playing time. He continues to bust azz every night and as long as the games are close I want the best options for winning on the floor. Season is over? Pathetic. Can you imagine coaches or players saying that or acting like that? Every game is worth playing to win. Every game helps prepare for a Big10 tourney run. Every game impacts our seeding for said tournament. Amazing that with Kofi commit, AJ ov, a couple freshman playing incredibly well, competitive games full of fight what comes out is this self pity entitlement garbage.
If you can't be extremely happy and enjoy watching Giorgi B on the floor than you are not an Illini fan, basketball fan, or fan of life. This team is sooooo much more than the record shows. Enjoy the blizzard snowflake, there's plenty of heat around the corner.

uofi08 on January 11 @ 02:22 PM CST

Dear lord. Let’s dial it back a couple notches. Obviously the season isn’t actually over. And obviously no player or coach is gonna say or think that. I didn’t think I’d need to spell that out. As Robert pointed out, the post season is already almost mathematically out of reach. I will continue to watch, cheer, and hope for as many wins as possible. (As probably every other fan will do).

I’m just as excited about Kofi and January as you are, and I’m legitimately intrigued and excited to see what happens next year.

Where we differ significantly is with regards to AJ and Kipper’s playing time and future. AJ is probably the most likeable guy on the team and works his butt off, but he’s also a very limited player. He’s a guard that can’t really handle the ball and is extremely passive on the offensive end. His statistical contributions are minimal. Kipper is what he is. I think we over rate his athleticism and his potential. He looks the part but isn’t as athletic or skilled and we like to think he is. It’s indisputable that neither player is contributing enough to help us win.

AJ graduates and there’s rumors Kipper might not be here next year. It makes sense to see more of Griffin and Tevian at this point but there’s a balancing act. On one hand we want to see what they can do in extended time and hopefully develop as the year goes on. On the other hand, neither player has really shown reason that they deserve more time besides being young and the lack of production from AJ and Kipper. Personally I hope to see better play from all 4 guys, with the freshman gradually getting more tick, and by the end of the year have close to a 50/50 split between the 2 frosh and the 2 upper classmen.

IBFan on January 11 @ 05:56 PM CST

Sorry Brother, reply was to Robert. I would love to see the younger guys earn it over the older guys but I understand the want to see the new guys play. I don't see a lost season but of course I have never seen a lost Illini season, orange-aid much? AJ, agree, he needs to do more. I just "want" for him sooo much. Hopefully he can finish strong and young guys get to play as well.

Kipper, yeesh, the epitome of DrJ and MrH. Not sure on this, maybe someone else knows for certain, but Trent and Kipper are really close. Story of so close that when a former Illini came after Trent, Kip straight up handled player. His protective nature became so intense that over time the bully had to leave team, was such a hardship. Think the young man bleeds orange and blue and loves BU, can't see him leaving. But, I'm wrong at most things in life so no betting of Beach houses or the like.

Groundhogday on January 11 @ 02:50 PM CST

I have serious doubts Kipper will be back next year. He'll be eligible for a grad transfer, and may very well want to play in a system that better fits his abilities. I'm not sure he'll thrive anywhere, but with his struggles at Illinois he could well want to move on.

Groundhogday on January 11 @ 09:51 PM CST

So apparently Jeff Thomas just did a big U-turn back to Miami.

Am I the only Illini fan not really celebrating until Kofi actually signs, and actually arrives on campus?

PapaDels4me on January 11 @ 11:15 PM CST

I'm with you in this case and in fact in every case. It is always exciting and positive when a player commits to our team. And it is never over until they show up on campus.

Ax474 on January 12 @ 12:09 PM CST

Norcal Illini on January 15 @ 09:39 PM CST

Robert, this is a late reply, but it took me a while to go back and look it up. Regarding the 6-man rotation, the 1983-84 Illini team that lost to Kentucky in the regional finals had all five starters (Winters, Douglas, Altenberger, Montgomery and Richardson) average more than 30 minutes per game for the entire season. Only Scott Meents (16 min) and Tom Schafer (10 min) averaged more than 10 minutes per game off the bench. And Meents was really the only sub who played important minutes. The 1988-89 and 2004-2005 teams played more guys, but the starters still averaged in the high 20s to 30s in minutes per game.

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