2021 BTT IV: First Mailbag


Robert
Mar 12, 2021
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3 Comments

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Must have been exhausted because I slept until 9:26 am. How do I know it was exactly 9:26? Because I feel asleep with my phone in the bed, and my wife sent me a text at 9:26, and it woke me up because I was sleeping on my phone. I'm so glad no one texted me before 9:26 today.

I'm now seated in the Pressbox In The Sky for the morning session. After the second game, they'll clear us out of here and I have to go down to the Scooter Zone pressbox on the other end while they clean this pressbox. Then they'll put the chart up and I'll get to see whether I get a seat in Cool Kids Press Row or Pressbox In The Sky. Very doubtful the guy who covered more Illini basketball road games than any other human being will get a spot on Cool Kids Press Row down there. You gotta have some juice behind your name to pull that off.

My plan for the next five hours until that sheet goes up and I see where I get to sit tonight: mailbaggery.

Let me tell you, I hated every video I saw from Champaign yesterday while I was seated here in the Pressbox In The Sky.

As I've said many times, I have no idea how Covid works. They're going to disinfect the Pressbox In The Sky twice today and I have no idea if that's going to do anything because there are 17 theories on how Covid is most frequently transmitted and 14 of them now say that surface transmission is possibly extremely rare. That's not a shot at anyone. It's one of those "in five years, we'll really know how it works, but for now, overabundance of caution". I'm good with that setup.

But being good with that setup, and not knowing, I saw a video of the band at Ubben seeing the team off and I immediately shut off the video. Like, on the 0.7% chance that students with Covid playing trumpets sends a viral load through the air in a mist of musical Covid, I don't want the band anywhere near the team. I don't want the bus driver anywhere near the team. I only want bus drivers who have been quarantined for 31 days in an Appalachian cave to be near this team.

I know, I know - they probably laid the whole thing out and made sure no one was within 45 yards of the team. Still, with every meat packing plant and prison Covid outbreak I'd read, it seems to my very non-Biology-degree brain that there's something to Covid living in the air for a period of time. And if that's the case, let Kofi drive the bus because one bus driver could end our Tournament.

(I'm sure the bus driver is tested daily. I get it. I'm just saying that the Big Ten has a 17-day window for players sitting out (it was 21 days when Brandon Peters had to sit out). If someone tested positive today, they're out until March 29th which is the first day of the Elite Eight. So tomorrow we enter the zone of "if anyone tests positive, they miss all of the first weekend and all of the second weekend". With that, I want the most insane bubble imaginable.

And when I see maskless Brad Underwood walking with the team while the band plays and the cheerleaders cheer, I scream like I just saw a mouse and shut my laptop.

I guess I didn't ask your question. The NCAA has rules here. You can still play as long as you have five tested-negative players. So the Tournament will go on. They even have protocols if a team pulls out of the Tournament on Monday and Tuesday (they'll replace that team). We just have to get there healthy.

(Which is why I honestly wouldn't hate losing today. Honestly. Just to go a hotel and don't move until Friday. Even if Iowa then rolls to the BTT title and takes our 1-seed. All I care about is being in the bracket and playing every game with our entire roster.)

Has to be 1999. I wasn't there - I was skiing in Park City - but we went to the same bar for the Friday and Saturday games as last-seed Illinois made a run to the title game.

For those who aren't familiar, in 1998 we won the Big Ten with five seniors in the starting lineup (the Heldman/Turner/Hester team). That meant zero returning starters for 1999, and we struggled. Basically what Wisconsin will look like next year if they don't get any of these seniors back using the Covid waiver. We went 3-13 in the Big Ten that year.

So we entered the Big Ten Tournament as the 11-seed (there were 11 Big Ten teams at the time). We proceeded to beat #23 Minnesota in the 6/11 game, then beat #17 Indiana (the 3-seed) in the quarters, then beat #11 Ohio State (the 2-seed) in the semifinals. We eventually ran out of gas against #2 Michigan State in the final and failed to make the Dance.

My favorite moment was probably that Ohio State game in the semifinals. It was on CBS, we were watching in a bar in Park City with a bunch of Ohio State fans, and we won. The single moment I remember: Ohio State was down three with maybe 2 seconds left and they went to the line. They made the first and then intentionally missed the second. It bounced to the baseline (a great missed FT - fire a chest pass at the rim and get a crazy clang to the left). Michael Redd grabbed it and tried a turnaround jumper to tie it and just missed. We were stunned for a moment... and then got really loud for the Ohio State fans as they left.

All of this reminds me of a stat I pulled once. From 1996 until 2012, we always were a single game away from the NCAA Tournament. Even when we didn't win it we had a win-and-you're-in moment. The math:

In that span we made the Tournament every year but 1999, 2008, and 2010. In 1999 we were 11-17 at the end of the regular season but we made the Big Ten Tournament final and would have been in with a win. In 2008 we were 13-18 at the end of the regular season but we made the Big Ten Tournament final and would have been in with one more win. And in 2010, it was Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday. Minnesota and Illinois were squarely on the bubble. On that Saturday, they beat #6 Purdue to reach the BTT final. We lost to #5 Ohio State in double overtime. Minnesota lost in the final the next day but they made the NCAA Tournament. We were the first team out and got the #1 overall seed in the NIT.

So until the disastrous 2012 season (where Bruce Weber was fired), we could say we had a win-and-your-in moment (or we were simply "in") for 15 consecutive seasons. I think it was when was lost to Iowa in the first round of the BTT in 2012 that I first noted "this is the first time we haven't at least had a shot at the Tournament since 1996". Those were dark times.

Here's hoping the next 72 hours will be my new "favorite Big Ten Tournament memory". (Either that or lose today and quarantine in the hotel.)

I don't have to answer this one because I already recorded it. If you have an extra hour-plus, you can watch me join Ryan here to discuss road trip foods on this vlog from October. Have you ever wanted to know what I do to keep my hands from hiding in my sleeves while wearing a suit coat with my tiny T-Rex arms? Get inside...

Comments

IlliniJoe81 on March 12, 2021 @ 01:33 PM

The 1999 BTT run is when I started following Illini basketball. So that will always be special to me. (Wasn't that the very first Big Ten Tournament?)

Brad Underwood has already been vaccinated (at least one dose) so he should be good to go at this point. Same with the rest of the staff. I assume the band and the bus driver had already tested negative earlier in the day.

I was absolutely terrified that one positive test could end our season but now I'm slowly realizing that you can still play with the guys who test negative. Not sure if positive test guys can rejoin later if you win without them. I do feel pretty confident though that we'll at least be able to field a team.

I'm not sure playing in the games is more of a COVID risk than not playing in them. I'd rather have everyone focused on playing games than just sitting around. Seems like idle time would be dangerous.

The Big Ten conference is taking a lot of heat from its members for various controversies but in terms of testing protocols and moving the BTT to Indianapolis they absolutely nailed it. Is there any conference you'd rather be in right now from a COVID perspective?

SactownIllini on March 12, 2021 @ 03:16 PM

I think scUM won the first BTT behind the Tractor Traylor (RIP). Wanna say it was 1997?

I loved that 1999 team. They were much better than their record indicated. Bradford was so good. Lots of close loss potential major upsets foreshadowed that BTT Finals run. And who could ever forget Chukwudebe?

Nabor568 on March 12, 2021 @ 02:45 PM

“....a viral load in a mist of musical Covid.....” Regardless of what the next year brings, I will always have this line. :)

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