Just What I Needed
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
We all needed that. The Notre Dame game was encouraging, but coming out and dominating Rutgers, winning by 35, is absolutely something every one of us needed. "Uneasy" doesn't begin to describe the fanbase the last three weeks, so complete and total domination of an inferior opponent has allowed the fanbase to breathe again, I think.
Maybe the best way to say this is to describe two "fan approaches" to this season. Close your eyes and let me talk through both.
First scenario: it's mid-August and I tell you "Illinois will be 3-2 after the Cincinnati game, playing in the third-place game at the Hall Of Fame Classic, struggling with Kansas State. The following week, Illinois won't even be ranked after really struggling with UTRGV at home."
You wouldn't have believed me, right? A 20-point loss to Cincinnati? Finishing that game on a 7 for 40 streak? The 2018 team, maybe, but 2021-22? Zero chance. Team seems invincible.
Unfortunately, it was real, and we all lived through it. And that adaptation - that slow burn that took us from "can we push for a one seed?" to "wait, do I need to worry about getting in the Tournament this year?" in less than two weeks - has been very difficult to achieve. This team losing to Cincinnati would have seemed absolutely impossible after Kofi announced he was returning. This fanbase has taken such a mental hit the last month.
On the flipside, picture a scenario where none of that happens. Kofi is only suspended for two games, not three, He returns for Marquette and we win. Andre Curbelo doesn't hurt his head, Trent doesn't hurt his shoulder and knee, no one on the team catches the flu, and we roll into the Rutgers game #7 in the country.
Well then this game would have been "holy crap, this team is even better than we imagined", right? This was a completely dominating performance. A "maybe this team really can go 17-3 in the Big Ten" kind of performance. And it would have pushed us to start talking in terms of how high we'll be ranked going into Michigan/Purdue weekend in January. This was a "maybe we still don't know how good this team can be" kind of performance.
Instead, because of the way things have gone, this was just a "finally, a great performance" game. A back-on-track game. A "this has restored my faith that we can figure this out" game.
I just re-read that and I didn't even come close to what I was trying to say. What a mess. I'd totally delete it but it's late at night, Tyler and I just finished recording a podcast, and I fell asleep about three paragraphs ago and took a 10 minute nap. I really need to push through here so that this thing isn't an absolute mess. Focus.
This game was exactly what we needed. This was the offense we wanted to see (offense runs through Kofi and if they overdo the double and triple-teams, so many other options are available). This allows Kofi to have a relatively quiet 13 points while Illinois wins by 35.
Which is the kind of thing we were expecting this season. Fan confidence. It had been been missing for nearly 15 years until last season brought it back. Traveling to a game at Wisconsin? "Just feels like we're going to win this one." When have we ever been able to say that?
So when Kofi announced his return, every one of us, at some point, had this realization that our fan confidence could just pick up where we left off in Indy for the BTT. We all had the same "oh I could get used to off-seasons like this" feeling.
Then it evaporated. At the speed of some time-lapse video depicting snow melt. It felt like 90% of the confidence left my body by halftime of the UTRGV game exactly one week ago. Marquette was a sucker punch, Cincinnati as a bunch of body blows, and it felt like UTRGV was going to finish me off.
But now I feel like a lot of that has been somewhat repaired. Curbelo is still out, and until we know his status, we're going to worry that several games will be lost due to him in street clothes. But beating Rutgers with such (I've been trying to avoid this word but I'll just use it now) efficiency is fix-a-flat for my fandom. There are still bumps ahead, especially if Curbelo is out until January or something. But I can breathe again, and that feels great.
Right here is where I'd usually go with the "additional notes from the game" section. But it's 1:04, I can barely keep my eyes open, and my brain is shutting off. So I'll just close with this:
We needed that. We really, really needed that. And if we can build on it with a win at Iowa on Monday, we're back on track.
I'm gonna sleep really well.