14 Straight

Jan 24, 2019

I've probably told this story here more than any other story: my conversation with some random dude in Madison, Wisconsin the night of the Christian Laettner shot in 1992. He told me how Wisconsin was ascending in both sports. I laughed and laughed and laughed. And now it's been 26 years and he continues to be right. It haunts me.

It's a difficult story for anyone under the age of 35 to understand, this concept that "Wisconsin will be top-25 in both sports soon" being laughable (and I mean LAUGHABLE). No one remembers how bad they were in 1992. It would be like... it would be like this:

You take a trip to Oregon. You're sitting eating some clam chowder in Depoe Bay, Oregon at The Chowder Bowl watching the little train run around up by the ceiling. And you strike up a conversation with the guy at the next table. He tells you that he's an Oregon State fan, and in the conversation, he brings up how Oregon State will soon be a national power in both football and basketball. And they'll sustain that power for decade after decade.

You'd laugh, right? Sure, they might hire the right coach and build a few nice teams, but national power? Oregon State basketball? Oregon State football overtaking the Ducks to be the football powerhouse in the state? No chance in hell.

Well, that's Wisconsin and Illinois from 1992 to today. In 1992, Wisconsin hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament since the 1940's (yes, the 1940's - like, the decade). Wisconsin had last been in the Tournament 18 months after World War II ended. I'm having this conversation with him in 1992, and he's telling me the team that hadn't been in the Tournament since 1947 was soon to be a national power.

And it's not much different for football. At that point, Wisconsin had been to three bowls in the previous 30 years. Illinois had been to bowls in 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992, and Wisconsin had been to three bowls from 1963 to 1992. The idea that they'd soon have a better football program than us was a joke. An absolute joke.

Now? Now we just lost our 14th straight basketball game to Wisconsin. According to the BTN stats guys, that's the longest Illini basketball losing streak to any opponent ever. We've never lost 14-straight to anyone. And we've now lost 14 straight to the team that didn't go to the Tournament a single time from 1947 to 1992. Can you even... how is it possible that... WHAT??

I'll say it like this. Go to some sports bar in Michigan. Find a Rutgers basketball fan. I don't care how - just find him. Then walk him over to a group of Michigan State fans. Have that Rutgers fan tell them "some day soon, Rutgers basketball will beat Michigan State 14 times in a row". Would the MSU fans ever stop laughing?

That's what has happened here. While we were asleep at the wheel, that's what was going on. We've lost 14 straight to Wisconsin, and it's now impossible for me to describe two things to people: Wisconsin used to be Rutgers, and we used to be Michigan State.

I drove to this game with my freshman roommate Brian. On the way up, we talked about how his mom and dad took us to the Illini-Wisconsin game in 1989 (thirty years ago, somehow). Illinois, #2 in the country at the time, won that game 103-80. We were, in every way, what Michigan State is today. And Wisconsin was Rutgers. Fast forward 30 years and... here we are.


+ This game was so incredibly winnable. I kept tweeting the whole game how every stat was in our favor. Wisconsin was turning it over at twice their normal rate, giving us so many more shots, which is how this whole thing is designed to work. Fouls were 15-6 at one point, so we weren't letting Wisconsin run away from us at the line. Happ was off, Wisconsin went on this long 4-for-22 shooting slump, and the game is right there for us to take.

22-62 from the field (35.5%)
4-21 from three (19%)
12-22 from the line (54.5%)

All of that effort, a bad game from their star, just a normal shooting game and we win, and we do THAT.

I mean, even the refs were cooperating. I could sense the Wisconsin fans throwing things around their living rooms when the fouls were 15-6. We're getting a nice homering, we're forcing turnovers, and we lose by 12 at home. Unbelievable.

+ Let's talk about Giorgi because I need to talk about something good. Let's just put it this way:

Giorgi: 8-14, 20 points, 8 rebounds
Rest of team: 14-48, 40 points, 22 rebounds

He's all we've ever wanted and more. We entered this season with massive frontcourt issues and then hit on a 40:1 darkhorse - an unknown recruit playing like he should have been ranked in the top-35. Somehow, he keeps getting better and better.

And yet we lose by 12 because the other starters go 10-37 from the field. Sorry - I know this was supposed to be the "something good" bullet point, but I just can't get over how poorly we shot the ball.

It's so strange to go into this season with "Trent and Ayo will make up one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten but the frontcourt is nonexistent" and end with "Giorgi and Kofi are the key to next year's turnaround".

+ If it hasn't been said yet, it needs to be said: we are now officially eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. On January 23rd. This is, by far, the earliest we've ever been officially eliminated. We could win all 12 remaining games to finish 13-7 in the Big Ten... and would still miss the Tournament at 17-15. Our only shot is to win the LOLLOLOLOLOLOL sorry I almost said it.

Eliminated by January 23rd. That's so crazy. We're the 2018 Orioles.

+ I think my biggest takeaway tonight is that all of the pieces do not scream 5-14. In 1999 when we were running Arias Davis and Cleotis Brown out there, you knew that it was going to be a rough season. We had lost all of these starters, we were trying to plug the gaps with jucos, help hadn't arrived yet (in the form of Frankie, Cook, and Griffin the next year). You looked at the players on the court and you knew it was going to be a 13-win season.

I don't get that feeling this year. I see the players on the court - I see Trent and Ayo and Giorgi - and I don't think they should be 5-14. I feel like if you put this team up against 1999, as the players were walking out for the opening tip, you'd heavily favor 2019. And yet, 1999 won 13 games and 2019 will win... seven?

What a difference a week makes. One week ago, we watch this team finally put it all together. One week later, we lose our 14th straight to Wisconsin, our 14th loss of the season,

Send help.


NC_OrangeKrush on January 24 @ 05:09 AM CST

We have starters who have lost confidence and struggling offensively, and the coach refusing to try the bench for a spark. Guys hungry to play and to score. Truly a shame... even if it did not work, it couldn't have been much worse.

Offense in last 10 mins was dribble drive bad lay up attempts and... using the core 7 who can't shoot and still play that record all the way to the end was a shame.

Joe Edge on January 24 @ 03:36 PM CST

Marginally disagree... When the bench came in, they made huge mistakes, and so the coach went back to the starters...

I do agree that the core 7 weren't shooting well, and THAT seems to be the biggest problem in my view. We need players who can actually score, make shots, whatever the correct terminology is... We don't need any more players who 'get good looks, the shots just weren't going in' type nights... We need players who can SCORE.... EOS.

DB50 on January 24 @ 05:57 AM CST

The good news, help is on the way. The bad news, next year, assuming Kofi & January(plus whoever BU recruits) signs this spring. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one five star recruit”.

Dr. Chim Richalds on January 24 @ 06:49 AM CST

Not to mention we haven't beaten Wisconsin in football since 2007... 9 straight in that series. Would have to think a combined losing streak of 23 to one school is the longest in Illinois history, but would be interesting if there are any other runs that come close.

jmethven on January 24 @ 08:22 AM CST

You seem consistently hung up on our record and perhaps rightfully so, but I wonder how much circumstances affect our view of this season. This is by no means a good team, but is currently ranked #99 in KenPom which is actually 3 spots better than last year. The key numbers are #4 in SOS and #350 in Luck. Put both of those numbers towards the middle and our KenPom rank is the same, but our record is a lot better.

All that's to say you consistently pointed out early in the football season that the underlying stats suggested we were worse than our record, but here the stats are suggesting that we're better, and I don't see it discussed as much. It's moot for the rest of the season of course, but there's a lot more reason to think we can improve significantly next year from #99 than if we were say, #200, as long as there isn't mass attrition.

mwb27 on January 24 @ 09:16 AM CST



Bear8287 on January 26 @ 11:21 AM CST


Sweetchuck13 on January 24 @ 09:21 AM CST

Giorgi might be even more than a 40:1 bet that hit big. He might be more like 150:1 given the lack of info out there about him when he signed.

He's gone from "who is this guy and why did we recruit him?" to "Get Giorgi back in the game NOW - our offense can't function without him" in about a half season. It's incredible. Even Trent and Ayo don't seem to play as well offensively when he's not on the court. Easily our MVP at this point in the year, which is just bonkers.

orangejulius on January 24 @ 12:41 PM CST

Our offense can't function without him, but he's terrible defensively and commits a ton of turnovers . Don't get me wrong, he's been a pleasant surprise and I'm really glad we have him, but let's not pretend that he would be in the regular rotation for anyone in the top half of the league.

Jacob on January 24 @ 10:05 AM CST

Brad Underwood has made this team worse than the sum of its parts two years in a row. I am fully convinced he is a bad high major basketball coach. His success is due to Steven Gentry schemes but Steven Gentry doesn't and hasn't worked here. He left to go to Gonzaga before attending any practice. He ran a gimmick scheme at small school and had Jawun Evans at Ok State. He will not get it done

orangejulius on January 24 @ 12:33 PM CST

I'm not yet convinced that he's bad at coaching, but the way Kipper has regressed and gone into a shell is not a good sign. That's a talented player who should be playing much better. I have more questions about his recruiting, which is ultimately going to make or break his regime. Getting Kofi was huge. Let's see if he actually signs and who else gets added in the upcoming class. We desperately need some playmakers.

Bear8287 on January 26 @ 11:30 AM CST

I'm also in the "it's still too early to tell" camp. Here, I'll write something that may upset some Illini fans:

I hope that Ayo ends up leaving early for the NBA!

Why? Because I want other players to see that a 5-star player can come to Champaign and get to the NBA early. That is huge.

I wonder if Kofi seeing a freshman big at Illinois come out of nowhere and have a so far spectacular year had any bearing on his decision.

Could anyone ever see Ayo and Georgi having these kinds of freshman years playing for Weber?

Underwood's teams are playing hard and don't quit. The players just need to start building some confidence and making some shots.

mwb27 on January 24 @ 12:03 PM CST

I agree, I do question some coaching aspects but last night, the guys couldn’t make a shot that college need to make to win games. We were getting shots, but our best players weren’t making them. That won’t wind games no matter who is coaching.

In general, I like underwood, he’s gonna win here. But I do question why tev and griffin can’t get more of a chance. They need to get more minutes to get into the game flow and be productive. They haven’t been given a leash to go play. They are to worried about getting taken out for screwing up one time.

blackdeath on January 24 @ 01:03 PM CST

Good points, mwb. You observe:

"But I do question why tev and griffin can’t get more of a chance. They need to get more minutes to get into the game flow and be productive. They haven’t been given a leash to go play. They are to worried about getting taken out for screwing up one time."

It sure can seem like that from our point of view. I remember Lou Henson was criticized this way a lot, more often, more regularly than such concerns about Underwood at this point. Henson would sit or withhold key players in ways that confused, agitated, and infuriated a lot of onlookers. He had his reasons and eventually he started winning . . . a lot. Whatever Underwood's reasons are, he has them.

mwb27 on January 24 @ 02:19 PM CST

Ya, I’m sure he does. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that. The way players move in and out of systems, I just hope those guys have the patience to wait ‘their turn’. Those 2 guys are really good and I believe key pieces to get this thing going next year, I hope their still around and see it through.

Joe Edge on January 24 @ 03:41 PM CST

I think Tev and Grif will be great players.... eventually... But right now they make too many mistakes, and when they STOP making these mistakes, the coach will TRUST them more, and they will gain more playing time.... I wish that time was NOW... But it's NOT...

Your point about Henson is spot on... The college game belongs to the coaches, the NBA belongs to the players. You do what the coach says, and do it consistently, you PLAY... otherwise it's the pine. That was Henson's view (as it is with most NCAA coaches) and that's what we're experiencing now...

1970 John on January 25 @ 06:26 AM CST

We've seen this team utterly frustrate opponents. Except in a very few games, body language and facial expressions of their players coming off the court have been towel throwing annoyance and irritation. And yet we've lost those games. We've given them away.

I believe this team, maybe even this season, will make the other guys throw towels in the locker room after the game ends, not just with faces and bodies halfway through it. It's just gut, but this team is going to leave the rest of the B1G, and collegiate basketball as a whole, saying, "Who are those guys?" https://youtu.be/-kbTbg00AJU

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.