On Or Off
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
I released some of my Illini basketball angst in the newsletter yesterday. Here's where my brain is this morning: "I don't think we're 'inconsistent' per se. I think we simply play at 95 or we play at 5. It's on or off. It's all or nothing." I need to follow my brain down this path.
The Northwestern game is obviously the example of this. If the scale goes 1 to 100, with 1 being our 2009 performance against Penn State where we scored 33 points and 100 being the first half of the Wake Forest game in December 2004, the first half against Northwestern was an 11 and the second half against Northwestern was a 98. We were both a wrong-side-of-the-bubble team and a certain Final Four team in the same game.
I'm a comp guy (have you heard?), and I can't really come up with an Illini season that looked like this halfway through. Enough in-game evidence to know that we can hang with anyone. Also enough in-game evidence to think that we might somehow stumble through a disastrous February. We're either on or off, often within the same game.
I tweeted this after the Ohio State game. Here's how I view January:
The halves of 2021:— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 16, 2021
Purdue 1st half - good
Purdue 2nd half - bad
NW 1st half - horrific
NW 2nd half - fantastic
Maryland 1st half - bad
Maryland 2nd half - awful
Ohio St. 1st half - awful
Ohio St. 2nd half - OK I guess?
We're very much Jeckyl & Hyde. Two teams living in the same body. And no one knows the formula for the elixir which will make Hyde go away.
I just asked Alexa to turn the music off. You don't know this, but this is a big deal. It means I'm onto something. The example for this just clicked in my brain. In fact, let me go swap out the featured image at the top of the post. It was a shot of the team looking confused about something. But now it's, well, what you saw when you opened this post. I figured it out. We need Brad Underwood to have that exact Beverly D'Angelo moment from Christmas Vacation.
That's it, right? Oh man, that's it. That's what we need. We're looking in the wrong places. We testing all the connections and following all the cords and testing the bulbs and none of that is going to help because they're all connected to an outlet that requires a light switch to be on.
Sorry - I'm typing too fast. If you're not familiar with this movie, here's the full scene:
That's the best way I can describe 2020/21 Illini basketball halfway through the season. We have one of the best Christmas displays you can imagine. When it's on, it's glorious. But the outlet is connected to a light switch, and we haven't figured that out yet. If we figure it out, look out, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. If we don't, well, I'm going to feel like Clark Griswold fighting with the extension cords all spring and summer.
I know this is 95% narrative and 5% analysis, but I don't care. This is now how I view this season. That entire scene with these actors:
The fans are Clark Griswold. Shaking the extension cords, frustrated that it won't work. We spent months and months bragging about what the house would look like this winter, and we had the whole thing planned out, and now it's just not working. BUT IT SHOULD BE WORKING.
The grandparents on the porch? That's the national media. They keep getting calls to come outside to see Illinois Basketball and when they watch, nothing happens. So they're reaching the point where they might not come watch again. It's cold, and there are better things to watch inside.
The grandmother who flips on the lights and then turns them back off without knowing she discovered the reason for the lights working/not working? I'm gonna say that's the team. They're on, then they're off, and they don't really know why. But it's not their job to figure it out. They're not tasked with investigating the cause.
Beverly D'Angelo? That's Brad Underwood. Clark is never going to figure this out. She loves Sparky, but she knows that he's going to fall through the attic floor without her help. She's solved problems before, and she can solve them again. Wait a second, that outlet in the laundry room - didn't we discover years ago that it only works when the light switch is on? That has to be it.
This is it. I found the place for my brain to rest. I still remember the first half against Baylor - our best "we can hang with anyone in the country" half of the season. I watched the second half of Northwestern - our "when we turn it on, we can run away and hide from any opponent" half. Yet we're 9-5.
I've heard all of the discussion on this team and how it's one of the weirdest seasons we've had with moments where we're dominating an opponent followed immediately by a huge run from the other team. It's as "on and off" as any Illini basketball team I can remember. We're down 19-4 at Penn State and then a 94-62 Illini "run". Double-digit lead at Rutgers and then a quick second-half nap leads to a loss. Comfortably leading Purdue by 13 and then a 19-0 run.
So I will now look to Brad Underwood to figure it out. Clark isn't going to figure this out. The grandparents on the porch will not. There's a reason it turns on and off, and it's not what you think. It's on you to now find it.
And if you do? Then the neighbors next door can be Fran McCaffery and his sons, blinded by the brilliance and crying over the carpet stains.
Please let Fran be Todd.