I need to rant a little bit. This will be one of those short lunchtime posts. See, over and over I keep seeing those "it's March! what an amazing month!" tweets and I want to punch something. We haven't played a game that mattered in March since Tracy Abrams floater didn't fall against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament IN TWO THOUSAND FOURTEEN. It's been five years, and I now hate that everyone loves March.
OK, maybe that's not true. We probably have played games that "mattered". That horrific, awful, quite-honestly-it's-the-worst-loss-this-decade loss at Purdue in March of 2015 was a game that "mattered". We were still on the bubble, and a win there + one BTT win would have likely put us into the NCAA Tournament. AND, we had a big lead in the first half (at least 15) followed by the five worst consecutive halves of basketball I can ever remember. Lost in the second half to Purdue to fall to the wrong side of the bubble, completely destroyed by Michigan in the first round of the BTT to remove all doubt, and then before we can blink we're down 41-16 at Alabama in the first round of the NIT.
And, if we're being honest, I guess the Rutgers game in March of 2017 mattered. After we gave up on the season and fell out of every mock bracket, we suddenly won four in a row (including beating Michigan State in Champaign) to get to 8-9 in the conference. Same scenario - if we win at Rutgers and then win at least one BTT game, maybe we can sneak into the Tournament through the play-in door? Loss at Rutgers, 20-point loss to practice jersey Michigan in the BTT, NIT.
So I guess I can't technically say it's been five years since we played in a March game that mattered... but it's been five years since we played in a March game that mattered. Six, really, since the Abrams floater was another "maybe we can do just enough to get to the right side of the bubble?" season. Our last six Marches: three "maybe if we go on a BTT run we can get to the right side of the bubble?", three "this is a losing season so we have to win the BTT to get in and that ain't happening".
In fact, the last time we got to March 1st and were fully confident that we were in? 2009. No, seriously, 2009. In 2011 we got a nine seed but were nervous about getting in right up until beating Indiana on March 5th. In 2013 we got a seven-seed but were at least a little bit nervous when we lost three of four to finish the season (by the time BP3's buzzer beater fell in the opening BTT game, we were confident that we were solidly in and likely a single-digit seed). So I think that's where I settle. It has now been ten years since the calendar turned to March and we were discussing our seeing, not "will we get in?". Ten years. Ayo was nine years old.
So yeah, "it's March!!1!!!" makes me a little angry. I just want March to be March again. It hasn't been March in so long.
Which is why I really need to get to Friday this week. I know a "run" not going to happen - no team that plays on Wednesday is going to make it to Sunday - but I'd at least like to get to Friday. I would have at least entertained the idea of a run to the final like 1999 or 2008 if we had beaten either Penn State or Indiana to slide into the 8/9 game and avoid a Wednesday night game, but we couldn't do that. Winning three to get to Sunday seems at least possible (we've done it twice before); winning four seems highly unlikely.
Can we do that? It doesn't seem like too much to ask. Beat 14-seed Northwestern and then beat an Iowa team that has lost four straight. Can we just have that, please? A game with Michigan at like 9:00 this Friday night where we can at least entertain thoughts like "I too am shocked that Minnesota knocked off Purdue but if we can somehow get lucky against Michigan all it takes is beating a Minnesota team we already beat by 24 to get to Sunday...". Again, none of that would "happen". We'd lose to Michigan by 17. But I at least want to be able to entertain these thoughts before this long offseason.
Because man, is this ever going to be a long offseason. When we lose, quite possibly as early as tonight, it begins the offseason I wrote about back in January. A football roster that is rebuilt to the point where we'll finally see what we're going to get. A basketball roster that (should be) rebuilt to the point where we'll finally see what we're going to get. Three very long football seasons and two very long basketball seasons where we're told "we've torn it down to build a culture - watch for the results in a few years" and now we learn almost everything from September to March. Years of waiting and now we'll learn everything over seven months. Either it works or it doesn't.
Is that the right way to look at it? Maybe not. I wrote before the season that when looking for "the year" where basketball has a huge breakout, it would be 2020/21 if Ayo sticks around for his junior year. Senior Trent, junior Ayo, sophomore Kofi, (hopefully) some super-recruit freshman like AJ Griffin or Adam Miller. That would be the "look out, world" year. Next year I just want to have another Tracy Abrams-like floater that falls and puts us in the play-in game. Just get into the Tournament (and get to a bowl) any way you can. The following year should be better for both sports.
But the reason I'm focused on next year is that we'll "learn". If it goes south for both programs, then it's probably over. I don't think we could come back from another 4-8 football season or something like a 15-17 basketball season. "We'll learn" can be interpreted as "it should have happened by now". Big steps forward are necessary.
And, honestly, a run to Friday and a solid game against Michigan would still help me in the offseason. (I feel like I said this before the Northwestern football game in November, too.) Just give me some decent vibes going into the offseason. End on "hey, not bad" instead of this lose-five-of-six run that we're currently on. Beat Northwestern. Beat Iowa to drop them all the way to a 10-seed or something. And then give Michigan a run in one of those "hey, at least we played them tough for 40 minutes" games.
Then, next year, get back to a March that actually matters.