Opportunity Knocks

Jan 07, 2020

Tweeted it yesterday and now it's all I can think about. Yes, we lost to Miami and yes, we collapsed at Maryland and yes, we lost to freaking Missouri. But beat Wisconsin tomorrow and we can put this thing right back on the tracks while also accomplishing so many other things.

What other things? A list:

  • First off, the last time we beat the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team was January 2nd, 2011. Since Dee and Augie graduated, we're 4-22 against Wisconsin. It's all so stupid and dumb and stupid and it has to end. It can end tomorrow night.
  • In the NET rankings (the thing that replaced RPI), Wisconsin is currently #26. This is an opportunity for a legitimate, resume-building road victory.
  • We aren't going to have many opportunities for road wins. Road games after this one: Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, and Ohio State. In the NET rankings, only Purdue and Northwestern are ranked below us. Northwestern is probably going to be the only road game where we're favored. Yes, winning at Rutgers will probably be just as difficult as winning at Wisconsin. My point: we gotta start winning some of these.
  • We can be above .500 in the Big Ten after five games for the first time since 2012. That's not exactly the season to shoot for (we started 4-1 in the Big Ten in 2012 and then lost 11 of the next 13), but with so many 2-3, 1-4, and 0-5 starts of late (0-5 start to the Big Ten both last year and the year before), the chance to be 3-2 with home games against Rutgers and Northwestern up next could be huge for momentum. If you want to turn around a season where you lost all three non-conference games that mattered, push out to something like a 5-2 conference start.
  • This is the only basketball game against Wisconsin this year (they don't come to Champaign), which means that if we win, we hold complete and total bragging rights over the Badgers. We'd be able to say "beat them in football, beat them in basketball". The next matchup is on Halloween, so we'd go past 365 days without losing to Wisconsin. That would feel nice.

All of that is right there for the taking. And this is a Wisconsin team that has losses to St. Mary's, Richmond, New Mexico, NC State, and Rutgers. They're not in any way invincible like Wisconsin teams of the past. Right now KenPom projects them as an 18-13 basketball team. When Wisconsin is limping along like that, we need to go into Madison and break this crazy losing streak, right?

I feel like I've written this post a dozen times before. For both sports. "This is it - win this one and we can open some doors". And then it never happens. An entire decade goes by and we never open the door.

Well, here's another chance. And I should note that this chance comes right at my "2.5 years and you'll know about the basketball coach" point. With at least one BTT game, we will play 32 games this year before the postseason. This Wisconsin game tomorrow is game number 16. I should probably back up and explain this for people who don't know what I'm talking about.

Back when Beckman and Groce took over the same year, I wrote a post about how it takes longer to know what you'll have in a football coach than it does with a basketball coach. At a school like Illinois (historically awful at football and awesome at basketball), I proposed that the number was doubled. We had a bottom-10 football program, and with a bottom-10 program, you probably need five full years. We also had (what I believed to be at the time) a top-12 basketball program, and with that kind of program, really, you'll know in about 2.5 years. See where the coach stands in January of his third year (what does the third recruiting class look like, what's the trajectory of the current team, etc.).

I've stood by that on the football side. You won't really know until a coach has his first full recruiting class reach their senior seasons. That's why 2020 is everything for Lovie. This will be the year where we learn how high he can build a program. Is the high point another 6-6 season or is it something greater?

On the basketball side, last time, I didn't hold myself to my own statement. You held me to the statement, but I pointed to #reasons. "This team has three starters injured so we don't really know yet" and "can you really blame Groce for what Snider and Alexander did on Signing Day?". It wasn't until the start of John Groce's final season (in New York City at the preseason NIT in 2016, specifically) that I realized that we did know all we needed to know in January of 2015 - I just didn't want to admit it yet.

So this time, I'm holding to it. The all-important third recruiting class is impressive, with Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo possibly becoming a best-backcourt-in-the-Big-Ten kind of thing. But the product on the court - specifically, the losses to Miami and Missouri - still leave many question marks. Yes, last year we totaled 12 wins and this year we could get to that number this year by Saturday, but still, this season has only been a C+. Need a B or an A.

And man, is this road game at Wisconsin the perfect time to do it. What a boost to the season grade this could provide. We'll probably need at least two road wins in the Big Ten to get to the Tournament, and tomorrow is such a great chance to get the first one.

Can we pull it off?

Please tell me we can pull it off.


Illiniiniowa on January 07 @ 09:35 PM CST

6-30 in road/neutral court games with Underwood. I wouldn't bet on us pulling it off.

danny on January 08 @ 06:47 AM CST

All three road teams lost last night. Ohio State at Maryland, Iowa at Nebraska and Penn State at Rutgers. I’m hopeful for a win tonight, but winning on the road and in Kohl will be a challenge. A win would be huge for Underwood and the Illini. I’ll be watching!

Hoppy on January 08 @ 11:17 AM CST

I know we are still statistically near the top 15 in terms of program status, but recency bias is so heavily weighing against us. We haven’t been consistently relevant for SOOOOOO long.

I think your 2.5 years was good for when Weber was fired and Groce took over. I think you need to had a half year or maybe even a full year with each failed coaching regime and each tumble further into the pits of irrelevancy.

Though, I’ll stop at 4 years. It really shouldn’t take a B-Ball coach more than 4 to turn around a program.

I’m giving BU the full season before I claim he should be fired. But I will say I’m worried with how things have gone so far...

Hoppy on January 08 @ 11:40 AM CST

Hoppy on January 08 @ 11:43 AM CST

add a half year...* (not “had a half year...”)

The edit function doesn’t work for me.

mmyers74 on January 08 @ 10:52 PM CST

Playing 5 against 7.... Weighted, gullible, home team refereeing like crazy.... and we dropped an official "bend but don't break" half on Wisconsin.

We played 10 minutes of "here's just enough to make you work for the shot, but we will not foul you. Make it. I dare you", coupled with the most efficient offensive execution we've seen against power 5 talent, in years.

This was a loss. It just was. It had painful, unfair loss written all over it.

And we won.

Big. Clutch. Shots. Great. Clutch. Defense. Terrific play call/execution out of literally EVERY timeout.

Credit where credit is due.

Poor early coaching. Terrific late coaching.

Finally a swallowed whistle.

Illinois. Let's go.

Giovantischixstripz on January 08 @ 11:09 PM CST

Well said. Playing at Wisconsin you gotta essentially win by 10 because of the free throw advantage you know they are going to get. So many ticky tack calls you don't see generally in the Big 10. But they persevered, and just abused Wisconsin on the pick and roll. Such good execution hitting them with lob after lob, then Ayo on the penetration, sucking in the help side defense, and when we needed it all that work throughout the 2nd half paid off to get Trent the huge open 3 as the defense was crashing down to help early.

mmyers74 on January 08 @ 11:54 PM CST

Yep. (high five)

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