All Too Well
I'm trying to scroll through Twitter to make sense of things (impossible) and Twitter is like "you once paused over this one tweet that means you probably like Taylor Swift here's some Taylor Swift news put directly in your feed do you like it?" No Twitter, I don't want to hear about Taylor Swift right now. I'm in complete shock and I'm trying to process all of this.
Basically, I just pulled up Twitter to see what national media are saying. I just needed to know, you know? When we're a national laughingstock, for whatever reason, I have to take it all in. I feel like I need to read it all and once I read it all it will sink in. And then I can write an article about how we're just not very good right now.
I go to the "explore" tab to search for something and there's Taylor again. Twitter wants me to know that All Too Well is now the longest #1 hit of all time. And I'm all "wait, a Taylor Swift song has been at #1 longer than that one Boys II Men song?" I don't think I could even identify the song All Too Well. It's now been at #1 the longest?
So now I'm 100% completely sidetracked. I don't care an ounce about any of this music stuff, but give my brain a chance to say "there's just no way" and off I go. I click the, I don't know what it's called, news feed (?) on the "Explore" tab and I'm off.
The first thing I learn: it's not the longest time at number one. It's the longest SONG to make it to number one. Apparently it's 10 minutes long. So Boys II Men can keep their spot. (I realized I'm probably wrong there as well so I just looked it up - Old Town Road passed Boys II Men as the song with the most weeks at #1 so that's not even true anymore). I still don't think I care about any of this but I'm not feeling the awful feeling of "what if this isn't even a Tournament team?" anymore so I'm gonna keep going.
Twitter next informs me of this:
So now I'm starting to think this through. Radio stations are playing a 10 minute song? I guess that's not really all that crazy. Stairway To Heaven was eight minutes long. Billy Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" is probably eight minutes long. What's two more minutes? And does "radio play" even factor in anymore when looking for #1 songs? All of this is preventing me from realizing we might lose to Mark Smith and Bruce Weber tomorrow night, so I decide that I should watch the entire 15-minute video. 99% certain I've never heard this song but let's do this.
The video opens with a Pablo Neruda quote: "Love is so short; forgetting is so long." PREEEAAACH, Pablo. Right now it feels like I'll never not feel this current feeling. "My team is not what we thought they'd be" is just the worst feeling.
I should pause here to tell you something: I don't think this post is going anywhere. I don't have some grand plan to come around at the end and be all "which is why Illini fans know this feeling ALL TOO WELL" or anything. I'm in my hotel room trying to distract myself from the debacle I just attended and I'm transcribing my brain in real time. Don't worry - I made the post click-free. No one reads anything after losses like this anyway, so I figured I'd explore the space tonight.
Oh, and while I have the video paused, I'd just like to note (from my Twitter explorations before Taylor distracted me)... Is it ok to ask Here's What Underwood Needs To Do Twitter to stand down for a bit? It was all good and fine when we started 4-12 with Ayo and Kofi in 2019-20 but this is a damn early season crisis and we just don't need your expertise right now. I feel like I want to declare a curfew or something. We get that you could have this team fixed by tomorrow night but please, everyone, stay in your homes and lock your doors. Curfew is lifted at 6:00 am on Wednesday and then you can resume coaching the team.
OK, now back to Taylor Swift. This video has, my God, 45 million views in 10 days. I find myself thinking that Illinois basketball matters, and then Illinois basketball highlights will get 1,600 views on YouTube and a Taylor Swift music video gets 45 million views in 10 days.
It just hit me that I need to write a So How We Doin' tonight. You know what? I'll bury it right here.
So, How We Doin'? Kansas State
by Robert Rosenthal
You're telling me that I have to go back to that arena tomorrow, for the early game on ESPNews, and I might have to watch Mark Smith and Bruce Weber beat Illinois to send us not only out of the polls but down to "not even a single vote in others receiving votes"? That's what you're telling me I'm facing tomorrow?
The only coach I've ever gone full-on "fire this man right now" might beat us? I might sit there and listen to him say things like MARK SMITH YOU PROMISED and MOOOVE, KAOSI and then watch him walk off victorious? That single moment that played out in my mind over and over and over where Bruce Weber ran on the court and shoved DJ Richardson in the back, telling him to go to the other wing for the play he had called - I might watch that happen as he out-coaches our coach leading to our third consecutive loss?
I don't know if I can do that, you guys. I'm not sure I'm capable. I knew there was the possibility of playing K-State in this Tournament, but I thought it would be because they upset Arkansas. If this is going to be the second loss of a Thanksgiving tournament that sends our heads spinning (like 2009 or 2016) then I cannot handle it coming from Bruce Weber. I just can't.
The dread I'm going to have when I wake up tomorrow. I'll be sick to my stomach all day. Honestly, there's probably a 20% chance I won't even go. It's just too much to ask. All that Weber stuff plus the potential of "Mark Smith never lost to Illinois".
I need a prediction here and I'm putting zero thought into this. I cannot picture a meal with my family on Thursday where I have to talk about back-to-back-to-back losses to Marquette, Cincinnati, and Kansas State, so there's no way I'm predicting a loss. We HAVE TO win this one.
Illinois 74, Kansas State 67
Back to Taylor Swift (why?). Let's see what this video is all about.
Actually, it's a short film. 15 minutes long. Maybe this isn't the kind of thing I can live-blog. I'll just take the next 15 minutes and watch it. And no, I've never heard this song before.
~15 minutes go by~
I'm not sure what to say next. Now this is all going to feel like a set-up. Like I watched this video last week and decided to use it for this article tonight. I swear that I just watched it for the first time, and I swear that I landed on the video because of Twitter's algorithm thinking I'd be interested in it tonight (I guess I was).
That... was so incredibly helpful for me. I'm not gonna lie - I was absolutely reeling when leaving the arena tonight. Dark, scary "but then does this mean..." thoughts. And this dumb journey in front of this laptop screen to land on a freaking Taylor Swift video really, really helped. Allow me to issue the largest "stay with me here" I've ever issued and try to explain why it helped.
The song, and video, is about a relationship (like most songs and videos). Girl and a guy, everything is great at first, and then it starts to crack and eventually falls apart. The lyrics and the story don't really matter here.
What matters here: the song, especially at the end, repeats the words "I was there" over and over. She's singing about a relationship the fell apart and she's forcing it back into actuality. He can dismiss it all he wants. But it happened. She was there. He doesn't get to decide that it didn't matter, or that it wasn't real, or that it wasn't, at one time, magical. "It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well".
I feel like I really need to face that tonight. After Marquette I clung to "yeah but Kofi was out", and now that we lost (by 20, to a likely bad team) with Kofi out, my brain keeps searching and searching and searching for somewhere to land. The entire trip back to the hotel was a bargaining session. Desperately trying to find somewhere to put this.
This song, crazy as it may be that I landed on it tonight, forces me back to actuality. And probably even clears up some Loyola stuff, too. See, ever since Kofi returned to Illinois, I've been softening the Loyola blow. When all of the "might Illinois be... better?" articles came out around the time of Big Ten Media Day, I basically reduced the Loyola loss down to "yeah well see it's just like when Virginia lost in the first round in 2018 and then won it all in 2019". Part of a bigger picture where the lessons learned in Indianapolis in 2021 could be used in the 2022 Tournament.
But that's just bargaining. Which is dangerous. The best thing I can do right now is to stop trying to combine 2021 into part of 2022's bigger story. That's just a way to make the Loyola loss irrelevant. But it happened. I was there.
2020-21 - Ayo a first-team All American, Kofi a second-team All American, Belo the Big Ten 6th Man of the Year - was a magical thing. It ended abruptly and horribly. But it wasn't part of some "and then, the next year, even though Ayo was gone..." story. That's just something I've been trying to create to make "abruptly and horribly" feel better. It was its own thing and I simply need to accept how it ended.
And now 2021-22 is its own thing. And it has started horribly. The road in front of us is frightening, beginning tomorrow night. A loss there plus maybe losses to Notre Dame or Arizona, sends this season off the rails before Christmas. There are frightening moments ahead.
But they're 2021-22 moments. They have nothing to do with last season. I'm basically talking to myself now, but Loyola wasn't some necessary awful thing that would open the door to climbing the mountain the following season. It was just... a painful loss to a small school from Chicago that destroyed our championship dreams.
I mean, just look at the preview. I wrote that whole section about Ayo lifting Curbelo's chin at the end of the Loyola game and how that could be the moment that would catapult this season forward. I'd now take it back if I could. 2021 was one thing. 2022 is another.
2021-22 has now started 2-2. As 11 point favorites we just lost by 20. There's no flow to the offense so points feel impossible right now. As soon as tomorrow night we might put ourselves in "gotta at least go 10-10 in the Big Ten because 14 losses probably doesn't get in" territory. These are very scary times.
But we do have the potential to be a great defensive team. And if we start there, maybe we can tinker and figure out the offense. The assistants are all new, the scheme guy (Gentry) is gone, and Brad Underwood is probably hovering his hand over the "go back to the spread offense and pressure defense" button. A lot will happen before the first of the year.
And all of those things will be 2022 things. I think I finally just reached acceptance with 2021. It doesn't feel good - acknowledging that it happened and that it was real always feels worse than pretending like it was just minor hurdle on our way to something great - but at least I'm no longer fooling myself. And I guess I am going to "come back around at the end with All Too Well" after all.
2022? I am now scared to death.
2021? It was the Covid season (it was rare), I was lucky enough to be one of 75 people in the building at most games (I was there), and, unfortunately, it ended with our masked heroes losing in the second round to an eight-seed.
I remember it all too well.