2023 Comps

Mar 13, 2023

My brain lives in a world of comps. If you've read five or more articles I've written (and you probably have - I just looked up the total and this is article number 4,376 since I started the first blog), then you know that I navigate the world through comps.

My friend Erik (he of The Stats) also navigates the world through comps. And he sent me a comp for 2023 on Saturday that's really good. I have one of my own, so with us now knowing our seed (the dreaded 8/9 line), I figured the best way to talk about all of this would be to go back to those two seasons. I'll start with Erik's because his is better.

2023 Comp #1: 2011

I read the text from Erik when recording the bracket reaction podcast with The Boardroom guys. Here's his text:

Comp for this team is 2010-11: preseason expectations (#13), big non-con wins (Maryland, UNC, Gonzaga), total WTF December losses (UIC), blowout in Braggin Rights, mid season drama with prize recruit (Jereme Richmond), up and down conference record (9-9, 4th place), 9 seed in NCAA.

94-95 similar record wise but not so much in terms of season arc.

Pretty good. And when you look at the schedule, everything really aligns. Let me make it into a list.

  • It was a heralded freshman class with Crandall Head (Luther's brother), Meyers Leonard, and Jereme Richmond. All three were RSCI top-100 players (all four 2023 recruits were RSCI top-100 players as well).
  • The highest ranked recruit, Jereme Richmond, left the team in the middle of the Big Ten season. Same thing happened with Skyy Clark.
  • The most eerie comparison is that we played an overtime game with Texas at Madison Square Garden. We lost that game in 2010-11; we won that game in 2022-23.
  • We lost the Braggin' Rights game by double digits.
  • We went 9-9 in the Big Ten in 2011 (11-9 in 2023).
  • We lost our opening game in the Big Ten Tournament to fall to a 9-seed paired with Kansas as the 1. That's exactly true for both 2011 and 2023. The only difference is that we played UNLV then and play Arkansas now.

Kinda crazy, right? We were ranked at times during the 2011 season, we struggled to win on the road in the Big Ten, and we'd match every big win (Michigan State at home) with a dumb loss (at Northwestern). You'd get your hopes up and then you'd get your hopes dashed and then you'd get your hopes up again.

So if all of that holds, we're about to demolish Arkansas and then lose to Kansas. That UNLV game in 2011 is in the X-X pantheon. 8x-5x was on the table. We led 46-24 at halftime and still had a 22-point lead with five minutes left. I was expecting a final score something like 81-56, but we played stall ball for the final five minutes and the final score was 73-62.

I get it - dribble out every shot clock and you're not going to lose with a 22-point lead under five. But still, 73-62 does not in any way tell the story of that game. We completely dominated UNLV start to finish.

Just like we'll do on Thursday against Arkansas since this comp will hold 100% true.

2023 Comp #2: 1994

Erik's second text there suggested the 1994-95 season as another comp (we lost to Shea Seals and Tulsa in the first round), but I feel like the comp is the year before: 1993-94. I'll make another list of similarities:

  • Once again we played Texas in the non-conference. Crazy, right? So weird. In 1994 (well, December of 1993) we played at Texas (and won). So there's a "beat Texas" comp to both seasons.
  • We were ranked in the preseason (#16 in 1994, #23 this year) but we just never really got there.
  • We lost the Braggin' Rights game (that time in excruciating fashion, 108-107 in triple overtime).
  • Winning on the road in the conference was the entire issue during Big Ten play. Just like this year, we only won three Big Ten road games in 1994.
  • In 1994 we finished 10-8 in the Big Ten; this year we finished 11-9 in the Big Ten.
  • On the final game of the season we lost at #6 Purdue. We had a chance to help Michigan grab a tie of the conference title that final day but Big Dog scored, if I'm remembering correctly, 139 points and we lost at Purdue on Senior Day while they celebrated their solo Big Ten title. (A note about all three seasons here: in the final Big Ten road game, we lost at #6 Purdue in 1994, lost at #6 Purdue in 2011, and lost at #5 Purdue in 2023.)
  • We ended up in the 8/9 game paired with Georgetown. We were the 8, Georgetown was the 9. And had we won (we lost to Georgetown 84-77), we would have faced, wait for it, Arkansas in the next round. That was the Arkansas team that went on to win the national title. And they beat Georgetown handily.

The roster comparisons aren't really the same for 1994. That team was the only season where our #1 all-time leading scorer (Deon Thomas) and our #2 all-time leading scorer (Kiwane Garris) played on the same team. There were no mid-season freshman departures like Jereme Richmond or Skyy Clark. It was just the senior big man and the freshman point guard leading the way.

But the season felt very, very similar. 1993 had been a successful season (got back to the NCAA Tournament, beat Long Beach State in the first round, lost to a hot-shooting Vanderbilt in the Round of 32), and with Garris coming in and the only real roster loss from 1993 being point guard Rennie Clemons, we were 16th in the preseason poll. For whatever reason, it never really clicked. Still a solid year, just... not the 4-seed we were expecting.

And that's maybe the best way to describe all three of these seasons. Ranked preseason (#13 in 2011, #16 in 1994, #23 in 2023), so you're expecting to maybe be in that 4/5 game with a shot at the Sweet 16. The seasons weren't disasters because we still made the Tournament but we ended up in the 8/9 game all three seasons. Nobody likes the 8/9 game.

Well, until we demolish Arkansas Thursday and then shock Kansas on Saturday. You know how Baylor won the national title in 2021 but then lost in the R32 the following year as a 1-seed? Maybe that's a comp for Kansas? Win the title in 2022, out in the R32 game in 2023?

Yeah, I can't even say it with a straight face.


IlliniJoe81 on March 13, 2023 @ 07:30 PM

Very different style of play in 2011 but otherwise not a bad comp

O&B4life on March 13, 2023 @ 08:48 PM

The 2011 team had Seniors Mike Davis, Demitri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. That team criminally underachieved all season.

This season was frustrating, but was all new players. There was no reason the 2011 team should have been nearly as up and down as it was.

JeffreyJordanTouchdownPass on March 14, 2023 @ 01:00 PM

I thought Richmond was there the whole season, only missing the NCAA tournament? The comparison definitely still works though.

accy88 on March 14, 2023 @ 03:46 PM

Right. He was suspended for the two NCAA Tournament games. He also missed the Wisc. game on Jan 15. Otherwise he played in every game.

jdl on March 14, 2023 @ 02:38 PM

I am glad I don't live in a world of comps.

1978fan on March 15, 2023 @ 10:22 AM

A bunch of Illini fans from central Illinois made our way to United Center in 2011. Each year an Illini Alumni friend would get or group at least 10 tickets on the floor. That year we ended up under the Illini home basket, with the only thing between us and the court were the cheerleaders. I remember exactly what I said after that game. My buddy and I moved more trying to see around the cheerleaders than the standing around players on the court.

I believe that game was the beginning of the end for Coach Weber with Illinois.

danny on March 15, 2023 @ 01:54 PM

During football season we get a scouting report on each opponent. And always well done.

Here is one of the biggest games of the year n no break out our analysis on Arkansas. Nada! Seems like basketball is the little brother to football. Spring football gets more than basketball. A bit more basketball would be nice this time of year.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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