Jan 11, 2021

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I gave it nearly five hours. It's now exactly 1:53 am as I'm starting this post. I told myself that I probably needed to calm down - that this wasn't one of our worst home losses in the last 40 years. If I still felt that way after 4-5 hours, I'd write about it. I still feel that way.

Here's why. Let's keep this very simple. I was tweeting about how ranked Illini teams have only lost four home games to teams that finished sub-.500 in the Big Ten in the last 40 years, but let's make it more simple than that. Ranked Illini teams that have lost to unranked teams at home in the last 40 seasons (1981-82 through 2020-21). Conference games, non-conference games - how many home games have we lost to unranked opponents when we're ranked?

It's happened only 11 times:

  1. 1/17/13 - #23 Illinois loses to unranked Northwestern 68-54
  2. 1/22/12 - #22 Illinois loses to unranked Wisconsin 67-63
  3. 2/18/09 - #18 Illinois loses to unranked Penn State 38-33
  4. 2/4/06 - #6 Illinois loses to unranked Penn State 66-65
  5. 2/3/02 - #12 Illinois loses to unranked Michigan State 67-61
  6. 1/12/00 - #22 Illinois loses to unranked Purdue 69-66
  7. 1/2/97 - #24 Illinois loses to unranked Purdue 75-69
  8. 1/6/96 - #13 Illinois loses to unranked Michigan State 68-58
  9. 1/13/96 - #21 Illinois loses to unranked Indiana 85-71
  10. 1/17/95 - #20 Illinois loses to unranked Michigan 69-59
  11. 1/4/86 - #14 Illinois loses to unranked Iowa 60-59

Well, 12, now that we lost this game. 12 times in FORTY YEARS. Why am I having the reaction I'm having? Why am I absolutely crushed by this loss? Why do I know that when my wife gets up at 4:30 for her long travel day tomorrow I'll still be awake? Because my team just doesn't lose at home when ranked. And when we do, it means one of two things: 1) the other team is better than we thought or 2) we're not who we thought we were.

Let's break down the list above. Some of those unranked teams turned out to be good (especially the early January losses). We lost to unranked Purdue on 1/2/97 and then Purdue went on to win the 1997 Big Ten title.

So let's pull out the losses that were "well actually, that was a Tournament team we lost to". That eliminates 2012 Wisconsin, 2002 Michigan State, 2000 Purdue (Elite Eight team), 1997 Purdue, 1996 Indiana, 1995 Michigan, and 1986 Iowa.

Maryland came in 6-6 (1-5), so I don't think they're an NCAA Tournament team. If they are, then this changes a bit. Then it's "only" the 12th home loss to an unranked opponent at home (while ranked) in 40 years. But if they don't make the Tournament, here are the games to compare this loss to:

  1. 1/17/13 - #23 Illinois loses to unranked Northwestern 68-54
  2. 2/18/09 - #18 Illinois loses to unranked Penn State 38-33
  3. 2/4/06 - #6 Illinois loses to unranked Penn State 66-65
  4. 1/6/96 - #13 Illinois loses to unranked Michigan State 68-58

I feel like I already need to recap here. Illinois, ranked #12 in the AP Poll, #6 on KenPom, and #5 in the NET rankings, lost at home to 6-6 Maryland. It's only the 12th home loss as a ranked team in 40 years. Of the others, 7 of the 11 teams went on to be NCAA Tournament teams (meaning they weren't really "bad" losses in retrospect). The other four: the 7-seed 2013 team who lost to a bad Northwestern team, the 1996 NIT team (Henson retired) which lost to Tom Izzo's first Michigan State team (also in the NIT that year), and then the two Penn State losses we all remember (2009 Penn State won the NIT, 2006 Penn State went 15-15).

Which brings me to the core of why I'm so crushed. The 1996 Illini team wasn't #13. They'd eventually finish out of the rankings and out of the Tournament. The 2013 team, although one of my favorite Illini teams ever, probably wasn't a top-25 team. The 7-seed (which suggests a team ranked 25-28) was just about right. Both of those losses very clearly stated "Illinois should not be ranked".

This is supposed to be a 1-seed or 2-seed team. 1-seed or 2-seed teams don't lose at home to 6-6 Maryland who is playing without their best player and leading scorer. So this loss probably tells us that we're not the 1-seed or 2-seed team that we've been dreaming about for months and months. And that's simply devastating.

Look, maybe it was a fluke. I can always pull "the last Big Ten team to win it all, 2000 Michigan State, lost to Wright State that December" when I need to prove that bad losses don't always mean something. Someone tweeted me that the last Villanova team to win it all lost to DePaul. So yeah, you can't ever say that a really bad home loss means that you've eliminated yourself from being a Final Four contender.

And yes, there's no crowd, so home court advantage is lessened. I'd point out that a top-10 KenPom/NET team should beat a .500 Maryland team any time, any place, crowd or no crowd (I mean, Iowa just beat them 89-67 at Maryland), but I can see how college basketball is going to be weird this year and that home court advantage is less of an advantage.

But still, this was Maryland without their best player. Of any of the teams on my list above, Ayala-less Maryland probably only compares to 2013 Northwestern or 2006 Penn State. Great Illini teams just don't lose those games. Ever.

Which means I'm back to hovering over the "maybe we're just not that good?" button. And I HATE THAT SO MUCH. I won't sleep tonight because of that. I wanted Iowa to be a fraud and flame out in the Round of 32 while we go on to the Final Four, but it might be reversed, and if that happens, it might take 19 years off my life. I don't know if I can live in that world, people.

This is the spot where I'd talk about the game - how Maryland double-teaming Kofi in the second half left so many wide open shooters but Kofi just isn't a passer and that really hurt us - but I don't think I have the strength. I've waited and waited and waited for another great Illini team to cheer for. We were #21 and on the verge of something great last year but then Covid took that away. We got Ayo and Kofi back and have entered the top-10, sometimes even the top-5, of nearly every college basketball poll and formula. After more than a decade of nothing, the season we've been dreaming about has arrived.

But with this loss, I now have this "maybe this just isn't that team" song stuck in my head. When driving to Nebraska on Wednesday, all I'm going to be thinking about is how we're probably not who we were hoping we'd be. We see these bursts where we look like the best team on earth, but we also see these lulls where we look like we've fallen asleep. And this narcolepsy is probably going to show up at some point during the Tournament and ruin our dreams.

Maybe I set my expectations too high. Maybe I let hope get the best of me. Maybe I should just accept that this is a 4-5 seed team which will put together a nice little Tournament run before losing to a real team in the Sweet 16. I probably skipped several steps between "let's just get back to the Tournament" and "no seriously could we win it all?". The Ohio near miss, the Missouri debacle, the 19-0 Purdue run, the 15-point Northwestern lead - maybe I just need to realize that 9-4 is the correct record for this team and drop all my silly dreams about Final Fours.

That's just so hard to take. I want to keep dreaming, even as the evidence piles up suggesting that it's probably not going to happen. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and I'll be back at "I'm clinging to this until it doesn't happen".

But for now, I'm crushed.


orangejulius on January 11, 2021 @ 07:43 AM

We're simply not as good as we thought we would be. The right team can exploit our weaknesses and MD did that really well, bottling up our shooters and forcing Kofi to pass. I don't think many were expecting the loss of Alan Griffin to be so impactful because we had Hutch and he was supposed to fill that role. Really missing Alan's size on the perimeter and his ability to shoot over the defense, not to mention his rebounding. And I thought Adam Miller, although he has been good, would have more to his game.

bradidas on January 11, 2021 @ 08:43 AM

Maryland was 45th in NET prior to the game and 35th after. I don't mean to excuse the loss, but I think those numbers should be considered in addition to the 1-5 B1G record, etc.

DB50 on January 11, 2021 @ 08:44 AM

We Miss Andres Felix!

drewpershing on January 11, 2021 @ 08:45 AM

I think this devastation is made a little better because there were no fans there. But I think this is the signal we’re just not as good as we thought we were. If it was the first time this team slipped up I think I would easily forgive them. But there have been signs for weeks that we’re just not that good. Like you said, the loss to Missouri, the big runs given up to inferior teams, and now this. And that is so depressing.

bradidas on January 11, 2021 @ 08:51 AM

ACC Teams ranked higher than Maryland in NET: 17 Clemson 27 Louisville 30 Va Tech 32 Virginia

SEC Teams ranked higher than Maryland in NET: 3 Tenn 20 Arkansas 22 LSU 25 Miznoz 29 Alabama

Big12 Teams ranked higher than Maryland in NET: Baylor 2 Texas 9 Kansas 13 Texas Tech 18 West Virginia 26

My point is, Maryland is a pretty good P5 team. We view them as a B1G bottom dweller, but this year, B1G bottom dwellers are still pretty good P5 teams.

Illini_1105 on January 11, 2021 @ 10:04 AM

Maryland game planned for our weaknesses and executed. This is something that we have known the entire time about our team. Good teams will expose these issues. Maryland is not a "good team", however they played like one and they beat us.

Robert, you said it yourself earlier. Iowa, Michigan, Gonzaga, Baylor ALL make us call them daddy if we play the first half against them like we played Northwestern. Illinois has ~4 weeks to fine tune some of our glaring issues (which I really do believe we can do) and then make a run at the tourney.

hoopsfan47 on January 11, 2021 @ 10:05 AM

Must agree and have all along that this team is not as good as we would like them to be. Ayo, though mind-boggling good with the ball most of the time still is not the perimeter shooter we need him to be. Kofi, as physical as he can be, is still not an accomplished basketball player and needs much work on his pass and catch skills. Hawk and Grandison could be strong contributors but see little time and Miller and Curbelo run hot and cold. Loss of Hutch hurts big too. But it is never too late to make big steps forward, trying to eliminate blunders, finding strengths and utilizing them, and hitting free throws...especially in the last minute. Ayo is doing his part and deserves some support....right about NOW.

Ellisrt1031 on January 11, 2021 @ 11:00 AM

Maryland was a bad matchup. They have multiple 6'6" ish athletes and other than Ayo, we have no one to guard those guys. Curbelo needs to mature for us to make a run. He is a semi careening down a hill with no breaks. Great potential. We don't seem to have enough to make a final four run

skibdaddy on January 11, 2021 @ 11:32 AM

This was a bad loss. No doubt about it, but it's pretty clear why we have struggled in the past few games. NW gave us fits in a zone, Maryland took away our top 2 players by triple teaming Kofi and forcing Ayo left.

These are fixable issues. Improve your zone offense, space out better to allow for Kofi to execute quicker to avoid double teams, get Ayo more confident going left. The only question is whether we will be able to correct these issues in time.

I still have faith this team has what it takes, but it's a long shot at a final 4 at this point.

San Joaquin on January 11, 2021 @ 01:46 PM

Would rather have seen the win, but not too distressed. More interested in seeing how they are playing come March. Walkon much more versed in how college seasons develop than me, but I think Underwood has both the time and staff to tighten the bolts - like Izzo.

illinizeeman on January 11, 2021 @ 01:49 PM

Three words: freshmen, no wing on January 11, 2021 @ 02:58 PM

This is a flawed team with one great player and one very good player. Your expectations (as much of the media) were way too high.

Ghrvol on January 11, 2021 @ 06:03 PM

This is a sloppy undisciplined team. Inconsistent. Top 20-30 team. Hope they improve but to expect more than a win or two in tournament is simply too much. I’ll absolutely root for it, but also have realistic expectations.

IBFan on January 11, 2021 @ 07:54 PM

Kofi didn’t get the ball 2nd half Ayo, Curbelo played hero ball Brad let them. He knew what they were doing. There’s a 300 lb monster in the post and he didn’t get the ball. This is mind blowing...3rd graders are taught feed the big dog. There is nothing Maryland could do if the team had made a true effort to get him the ball. I sat with two Highschool coaches watching the game and they both were talking that this was going to be a painful lesson at about the 12 min mark in second half. Sloppy, undisciplined. Brad got reprimanded by JW again? Don’t like the screaming, don’t like the optics from the NW game? Ok snowflakes take a loss.

ahamm445 on January 12, 2021 @ 09:11 AM

Neither say nor Kofi are good passers....

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