I think the bowl game has made me more impatient. Like, I'm One Of The Seventeen, but even I feel like Illinois football shouldn't return before Illinois basketball. Now that we're in a bowl, it feels like that our last tourney appearance in 2013 was 11 years ago. Just last month it still felt like six.
2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and now possibly 2020 without a tourney appearance. It's probably.. likely? I don't want to overreact, but it feels like we could be out by Christmas. Start the Big Ten 0-2, lose to Missouri, and you probably need what - 11 Big Ten wins in the new year just to get on the bubble? 12?
I should break this down. Lose to Maryland, lose to Michigan, and we're 6-4. Beat ODU and lose to Missouri and we're 7-5. Then you'll beat NC A&T but lose to Michigan State so you're 8-6. At that point, without any solid non-conference wins on your resume, and sitting at 0-3 in the Big Ten, you have to finish 11-6 in the conference just to get to 19-12 going into the Big Ten Tournament sitting on the bubble. So yes, it's beat Missouri or you might need 12 Big Ten wins to get in.
We might go seven years (eight? nine?) without making the NCAA Tournament. It's all hitting me right now.
After surviving Nicholls State (in overtime!) I tried to fight off the notion. At Arizona, I couldn't watch the game so I brushed it off as a tough road game. The Hawaii slugfest, I started to waver but we pulled it out and I settled on "these last five minutes were a corner". But going down 27 at home to Miami? As each of these pile up, I can't hold it off anymore. As of right now, this isn't a Tournament team.
Because I don't think Miami is a tournament team, and they just came to Champaign and won. And Nicholls State took us to overtime. And we struggled with Hawaii and lost to Arizona and are going to get ~drilled~ in the next two games. I look at the players and their abilities, I look at the results of the games, and they simply do not match up. Ayo-Trent-Dre-Giorgi-Kofi should not be a 17-win team. And right now, that's probably where this thing ends up.
Wait - KenPom tracks this, right? Let me go look it up.
YEP. After the update (losing to #82 Miami), KenPom now has us finishing the season 17-14. HOW HAVE WE NOT TURNED THE CORNER YET?
Like, seriously, when will it happen? It should have happened by now. We can't be losing this game in year three. I'm as patient as any fan on the planet but I'm sitting here screaming "WHEN?" inside.
Miami had four players. I'm serious. It was four players plus a bunch of mid-major guys. They played nine guys - those main four took 48 shots, the other five took six. We let a team with four players come to the State Farm Center and walk out with a win.
Since I have KenPom open, I'll look it up. Miami is projected to be... a 14-16 basketball team this season. They've already lost three games and barely beat Missouri State. How is this happening?
I know what you're thinking. As a HOPE guy, you're thinking I'd cling to the comeback. Down 27, cut it to one, had the ball with a shot to win. I get that. Great fight. That place was ready to erupt. But I can't get over the big picture. I might wake up on January 3rd to an 8-6 basketball team that was 33rd in the preseason poll. That's just so incredibly unacceptable in Year Three. You know my stat - Illini football 5 years to rebuild it, Illini basketball 2.5. Well, the Purdue game in early January is the midway point, and we might need to win to avoid 8-7.
It's just so depressing. Honestly, the only thing I'm clinging to right now is that my emotions are similar to the Eastern Michigan loss in September. That From The Stands was eight minutes of "HOWWW is this possible with the talent I saw at camp?", and then we turned it around midseason and made a bowl. So maybe there's a turnaround coming and I'll look back at this the same way I look at that.
But for now, I'm stuck on "when?". When is it going to happen? Is it ever going to happen again? This football fan needs Illinois Basketball in his life. The Illinois Basketball we all knew.
+ I'm not sure I've ever seen a shooting display from two opponents like we saw from Lyles and Vasiljevic tonight. I know I'm supposed to point to the defense, and maybe that was it, but some of these daggers were just... my goodness. Over and over and over. Even the bad shots one foot inside the line were dropping.
If I wasn't in this mood, I might chalk all of this up to that. "Sometimes, when two guys go off like that, there's nothing you can do". But when this comes as the second loss on the young season, when we were nine point favorites at home, I just can't get there. Find a way. Don't sleepwalk your way to a 27-point deficit. Don't need three timeouts in the first 10 minutes just to try to stop their insane run.
Two guards, taking mostly jump shots, are 18 for 28. Just incredible.
+ Maybe when I wake up tomorrow I'll be able to say that the comeback was fun. But when you come all the way back from 27, cut it to one, get a rebound, have the ball with 12 seconds left and a chance to win, and run someone over for a charge, man, it's the same feeling as the McCourt missed extra point at Michigan State. All of this emotion as we fought back and fought back and then THAT? Unfortunately, this time, there weren't four minutes left. There were 3 seconds left.
I'm not sure there's a worse fan feeling than that. You debate in your head "wouldn't it be better if we just lost by 22?" but then you think no, you want your team to show fight. That team in the second half is the team we all expect to see. But it's the same team that fell behind by 27 and looked shellshocked.
Michigan? Can this be the Michigan football game? Down 28-0 and cut it to 28-25 only to fumble twice and lose? We didn't know it at the time, but that comeback was the turnaround moment. Can this be that?
(It won't be that.)
+ Loved Da'Monte tonight. 7 rebounds, 2 big steals, 2 assists, massive put-back dunk, great defense. That kid plays so hard.
I know - he doesn't have the offensive game to go with it. But he does so many little things. If this was the season I imagined back in the summer, Da'Monte is the glue guy off the bench doing all the little things and winning 6th-man of the year in the Big Ten.
But it's not that season. So he's reduced to "only guy bringing energy as we fall behind 27 in the first half to a bad Miami team at home.
+ We need an upset in the worst way. We just have to win one of the next two. Not "have to" in order to make the Tournament (although that would help). "Have to" in order to snap me out of this mood.
I need my Illinois Basketball back.