Is That Any Good?

Nov 29, 2020

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I think I have to get this out before the Baylor game (please let there be a Baylor game) on Wednesday. We all need this basketball season like Northwestern needed to lose yesterday. I was chatting with my oldest son on Friday, and we were talking about how this is the first real-deal Illini basketball team since he was 15 years old. He's 29 now.

(I always have to write this paragraph whenever I talk about my kids: In 2003 I met a single mom with three boys. We married in May of 2005 when the boys were 9, 11, and 13. The boys are now 25, 27, and 29. The oldest will turn 30 before my wife and I turn 50. When we're 79 and he's 60 we plan to move to Del Boca Vista together.)

Will Leitch and I recorded that podcast last week (Apple here, Spotify here) more or less for a fan like him. The first season he really followed Illinois basketball was 2005/06. He had no idea why I was so devastated after the Penn State loss that year. He's basically known us to lose 4-5-6-7 home games every year since he started becoming a fan when the seven years before that Penn State loss we lost 3 times at home (total).

So he's not sure how to approach this season. Age 15 he was with me when we lost to Washington in the Round of 32, and since that moment, the only real games that mattered were the 2011 and 2013 second-round tournament games. Neither of those Illini teams were ranked, and both lost in the Round of 32, so yeah, he's never really known any success at all.

Now this team is #8. And he's all in. He couldn't watch Thursday (neither could I) but here's some of our texts from Wednesday and Friday:

Pretty benign stuff, but I wanted to point out the stress part. That's one of the few times he's ever told me he was stressed during a non-conference Illini game. The reason: he's never really had any expectations. Obviously he was stressed during the Michigan State game last year when it was tied with a minute to go. I'm not saying he's just now starting to pay attention. I'm saying that he's never texted me during a November game saying he's stressed.

Why is he stressed? Because we're #8. For the first time, walking around his office in the Illini polo means something. Think about that - he was 16 during the Rose Bowl, and that's the last time we were in any way significant in either sport. "Significant" meaning "the casual fan in the cubicle on the end is fully aware that Illinois is a contender and makes a comment about his shirt". Age 16 to age 29 without experiencing that until maybe last spring's 13-7 run through the Big Ten. The Fight Hunger Bowl just doesn't really get you there.

Now? Now we have a thing. #8 basketball team possibly moving to #5 tomorrow. If we do move to #5, it's likely #5 Illinois vs. #2 Baylor on Wednesday (please stay healthy, Baylor). He didn't watch the 2005 Final Four with me (his mom and I weren't married yet), so Wednesday will be the biggest Illini anything for him since the Rose Bowl. We might lead off on SportsCenter for the first time in forever. I'm so excited for the texts we'll get to share during the game (I'll be there, he'll be glued to his TV, possibly watching with one of his brothers).

And in that excitement - we have a real-deal thing that could blow up into "will we start getting first place votes if we beat Baylor?" - I find myself annoyed at how the team is being approached on social media. I know that's a weird thing to say, but I just have to get this out. I'm, I don't know, protective of this fanbase or something, and I've been bothered by the IS THAT ANY GOOD? approach that everyone seems to have here. There's only a 61% chance I can explain this but here goes.

First off, the only Illini media I follow are the TV folks at WCIA (I record that segment every Sunday so it's helpful to know what Bret and Marlee are thinking about things). I've explained this before, but in 2015 I realized that things I thought were original thoughts of my own actually came from something I saw on Twitter nine days ago, and if I wanted to really do this some day, I'd need to make sure every thought was 100% my own (or, if it came from my mentions, attributed to that mention-er). So I reduced my media follows to just WCIA (which is nice because Bret and Marlee usually hit on all the news I might not have seen).

So my relationship with "other" Illini tweets is mostly stuff retweeted (or sometimes liked) by fans and other friends I follow. I also follow the Fighting Illini "topic" on Twitter, so that will occasionally toss in something from a media member or frequent fan-tweeter. The point of telling you all of this: I see about 5% of the Illini tweets you do, and that's mostly filtered into "really popular tweets" that catch the Twitter algorithm wave and ride it into my feed. Either one of my friends retweeted it or it made it's way into that Illini "topic".

Maybe this is a result of that (perhaps it only curates the uber-positive), but those tweets this last week could all have the words "is that any good?" added in at the end. It's uncanny. I won't call anyone out specifically so these aren't quotes but it's basically this:

  • DaMonte Williams has now hit 7 of his last 10 threes. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Kofi now has three double-doubles and is impossible to guard in the paint. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Adam Miller might have had the best first two games in Illini freshman history. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Curbelo and Miller - the top freshman tandem in the nation. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Adam Miller is already in the record books and his career is three games old. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Ayo and Kofi will both end up on the final All American lists. IS THAT ANY GOOD?
  • Trent now catching fire as well. IS THAT ANY GOOD?

Again, this might just be a result of the Twitter algorithm. When Twitter does the "{person you follow} liked this tweet" thing, maybe it just screens for positive vibes or something. But everything in that "likes" feed and that "topic" feed = pure, uncut "is that any good?" fan cocaine.

And so when I tweet something that I feel like is fairly benign like the tweet below, it gets ratio'd:

I don't think it's crazy to state what I stated after we beat a team ranked in the 120's on KenPom by two at home. But read some of those 57 responses (and the quote-tweets). That's an overwhelming amount of "no no no no NO" for a tweet like that, right?

I thought about it for a long time, and the only thing I could come up with: when Twitter feeds are full of "is that any good" cocaine, a tweet like mine must be Naloxone. I don't think it's wildly negative given the game we had just watched, but maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps it's just weird for the "Lovie can still turn this around!" guy to be saying "the reality is.." statements. Not sure.

It doesn't bother me - I still stand by that tweet and don't think it was an emotional thing immediately after that game (which I've done before) - but I felt like I have to write about it. It's probably due to my son's increased interest in this season, but for the last week, I've felt very protective of the Illini fanbase in general. Every article and tweet I see is pure cocaine and so I want to sit down and discuss the dangers (or something). When I feel that parental protectiveness coming on, we end up with an article like this.

Look, we all want the same thing. Get this team to the weekend of March 27-28 with one game for a shot at the Final Four. Preseason #8, get to the Elite Eight. Everything is focused on that.

Between here and there, the road will be rocky. With this Ohio near-loss, I'm sorry to say, I'm more worried about getting there than I was a week ago. We have the talent to do it, but right now I feel like a Jason Preston could clip us in one of the three rounds before the Elite Eight. Iowa will have a defensive Achilles which will clip them in one of the first three rounds. We cannot have the same.

Is there time to fix it? Absolutely. Did we beat Nicholls State in overtime last year and then finish the year ranked #21? Yes. But for now, I have a concern that wasn't there last week. And I'd like to talk about it.

Is that any bad?


IBFan on November 29, 2020 @ 11:40 AM

I think with basketball it just happens so often that a player gets going and can propel a team. Player A gets hot and hits 4 consecutive 3s in the last few minutes and a comfortable win goes out the window. Or they have an incredible game against a higher ranked opponent which for them is their Final4. I believe the team was a little flat and I think Kofi was a little gassed. Ohio is a good team and KenPom is an absolute mess at the beginning of years. Too many turnovers, missed free throws....clean it up. Rankings are for fans but I agree with you that game against Ohio has us looking like a very good team but maybe not elite.

thegoah on November 29, 2020 @ 12:25 PM

To me, the problem is deciding whether a team “is” a top ten team based on any single game. Like you said in the tweet: “We can get there, but yeah, we aren’t there right now.” It’s not that you’re wrong; it’s just that I would argue that probably NO team is there right now, two or three games in. So what’s the point of saying we “aren’t” after a win? Who should go ahead of us? Rankings are silly until two or three weeks in, honestly...and even then probably.

Was Sparty “there” on December 30, 1999 when they lost to Wright State three months before winning it all? Of course not. And who cares? You’re saying we have work to do. I think we assumed that when we were winning by 60, also.

I would argue that the 2005 team spoiled us into a particular view of what a top ten team looks like. That team dominated early and never looked back. That kind of a team is a black swan. It shouldn’t be the expectation, even for a title contender.

So no...I don’t think your tweet was inappropriate. But I read into it (and I think many others probably did too based on the replies) more panic than would be indicated by the context of any game this early in the year.

I think a more interesting, relevant discussion would be “what are we gonna do with ANY team that has a hot stretch 4?” Jason Preston was amazing and I think played over his head a bit. You can usually absorb one player like having a game like that. The bigger problem was that when we tried to shut him down we had no answer for Vander Plas.

Ellisrt1031 on November 29, 2020 @ 05:26 PM

Agree 100% on the Vander Plas problem. I think the solution is to have someone dig on the post up and then get rotation on shooters. I don't see a power forward on the roster we can plug in either due to injury or ineffectiveness. Grandison appears to be a small forward/big guard.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on November 29, 2020 @ 07:33 PM

Yep. Good 4s will be a problem for us. We can defend a little better with Georgi, bit then we lose everything DaMonte brings.

And teams are going to figure this out- in fact they probably have if they have the film from Friday. . .

illiniinn on November 29, 2020 @ 08:45 PM

great post- so well thought out and level headed- you nailed it

Dr. Chim Richalds on November 29, 2020 @ 11:35 PM

This is a great summary of my thoughts on the tweet as well. I don't think it's wrong to question whether we're as good as we're ranked, but it was the certainty of it that threw me off. "We're not #6... we're not the top-10 team we thought we were" based on one game felt off to me given the evidence. 3 of the top 12 teams lost to unranked teams already - are they all definitely not top-12 teams? Maybe, but single game variance is pretty high in college basketball.

I also don't think we played all that badly. Turnovers are a concern as was the defense to a certain extent, but almost everyone played well on offense and we outrebounded them by 20. This one didn't look as bad to me as a lot of our struggles with mid-majors in recent years.

larue on November 29, 2020 @ 09:19 PM

Yeah, not crazy, just wrong. Or probably wrong. Every team is going to have a few games where they don't play very well, or the opponent just plays out of their minds. It doesn't mean you're not a great team, or the #6 or #8 team.

If we're really not as good as we're rated, we'll find that out pretty quick.

Thaillini22 on November 30, 2020 @ 03:58 AM

I don't understand the article. What is "Is that any good?" cocaine? Why did you have to defend your Tweet? (Honestly, I'm lost here, maybe because I don't Tweet.)

Chief4ever on November 30, 2020 @ 11:31 PM

I don't understand the "is that any good" either. Lost on most of this.

Besides that, I just disagree with the not top ten take after a single close game against a team that played great. It was a perfect trap game, top ten teams fight off really scrappy underdogs sometimes, and we won. Stuff to clean up, but that's exactly what these games are for. Get the W and learn.

uilaw71 on November 30, 2020 @ 06:50 AM

What the tweet and this article prove is that you’re a football guy, Robert. Did you notice our players breaking COVID protocol to congratulate the Ohio guys? A basketball guy would get that. But don’t take the criticism as anything but constructive. We read you first (before Loyalty), and miss your voice when it’s silent.

illinizeeman on November 30, 2020 @ 02:02 PM

I feel like Ayo and Da'Monte are the only ones that understand the meaning of "we are the hunted". Additionally, there are always growing pains integrating 4 new players. It's a process.

mmyers74 on November 30, 2020 @ 02:30 PM

Interesting. I was one of the responders to your tweet. A polite disagreement to the assessment.

My take was that a Division I team came in and delivered a nearly perfect game. I mean, nearly PERFECT! And we still won the game.

I believe that is the quintessential essence of a Top 10 team.

"Even your best shot can't beat us." JMHO. Go Illini.

mrmill on December 1, 2020 @ 08:44 PM

Meh - I guess 15 years out of the top ten, and you forget how bad most CBB teams look early on. Just watched the 2ns half of DUke/MSU- I don’t think I saw either team make a basket. Gonzaga seems to be the only team that looks good right now.

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