One Question Mailbag - 2011-12

Apr 21, 2023

I'm gonna do the thing where I turn a simple question into an entire mailbag post. Well, not a mailbag post I guess. Just one of those "someone asked a question, and I will now answer that question" things. I'm clearly just stalling at this point until I have enough words in the intro to be able to then embed the tweet. I'm past the jump now, so....

This started when I made a Space-X "rapid unscheduled disassembly" joke today (that's how Space-X announced their wardrobe malfunction). Here's that tweet:

On Slack, that led to this question:

Ok I wasn't huge into Illinois basketball at this point. Can I get a brief summary of this season?

Don't mind if I do. I'll keep this to a half hour of typing, and I won't do any research beyond looking at the schedule to get the timing right. This will all be off the top of my head because he asked for a "brief summary" and this is my brief summary.

I chose 2011-12 for my Twitter joke because of the implosion (kind of like the rocket that went boom). If I'm thinking about an implosion season, for both football and basketball, I think of the 2011-12 school year. Just think if this was your senior year at Illinois:

  • Football starts out 6-0 and climbs to #16 in the polls. Then football implodes and loses six games in a row.
  • Basketball starts out 10-0 and climbs to #19 in the polls. Then basketball implodes (see below).

Maybe the best way to explain it for someone who "wasn't huge into Illinois basketball at that point" is to point to the dysfunction. 2011 was a solid season (5-seed), and 2013 was redemption for the entire roster (7-seed), but 2012 was a disaster. The roster was there (they got a 7-seed and beat #1 Indiana the following season with that roster), but the cohesiveness was not.

I just came up with the best way to explain this. I'm so glad I thought of this.

2011-12 was what everyone was pretending 2022-23 was.

(I'm not an English major. I don't even know if I'm supposed to capitalize "English.")

Yes, everyone talked about how the Transfer Portal Team in 2023 didn't gel. But this most recent team didn't gel to the tune of "should have been a 4-seed and fell to a 9-seed." 2011-12 didn't gel to the tune of "were ranked on January 22nd and then lost 12 of 14 in the biggest implosion I can remember." (My dad spoke of the 1978-79 season implosion after being ranked 4th and knocking off #1 Michigan State, but I was 6 turning 7 at the time and have no memory of it.)

I swear that no one remembers that we were ranked (and then fell out of the rankings, and then were ranked again!) in 2012. Everyone remembers that season as the year that Bruce Weber was fired, but because the final record was 17-15, I'm not sure everyone remembers how it fell apart. A quick summary as I flip through the schedule:

  • Start 10-0 including a B1G/ACC win at Maryland and a win over #19 Gonzaga. That pushed us into the rankings the next week.
  • Lost to UNLV in the United Center game and to Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game to fall out of the rankings.
  • Then start 4-1 in the Big Ten with a win over #5 Ohio State (in the game we just call BP43 because Brandon Paul scored 43) to find ourselves ranked again at #22.
  • Lose three in a row after being ranked but then knock off #10 Michigan State to find ourselves 5-4 in the Big Ten and still in the hunt.
  • And then lose 9 of 10 to close out the season (with the coach fired after the first round BTT loss).

The pivot in the middle of the season was one of the most dramatic I can remember. 15-3 (4-1), and ranked #22 after knocking off top-5 Ohio State. And then go 2-12 the rest of the way.

It wasn't just "lose 12 of 14". It was this:

That was Nebraska's only win in their final 10 games. They went 12-18 (4-14) that season.

When I say it imploded, it imploded. That talent was clearly there -- not only was there a lottery pick in the upcoming draft (Meyers Leonard), that same team (without said lottery pick) was a seven-seed the very next year) -- but the staff simply lost the team. Again, 15-3 followed by 2-12. That's hard to do.

I'm guessing you may have heard some of the stories from that season (players crying on the bench during losses, Weber's Purdue press conference where he basically gave up on the season with six games remaining, etc.), so I don't think I need to go into that. It's hard to remember feeling worse for a roster than I did in March of 2012. (And then it's hard to express how much fun it was seeing those players get their redemption in 2013.)

My self-imposed time limit is up so I'll just say this. There's one example of rapid unscheduled disassembly in my lifetime and it's 2011-12. A team that looked really good beating Gonzaga and Ohio State (like, really good). And that same team finishes 2-12 including a near 8x-4x by 12-18 Nebraska. As good as it looked early, that team was a complete disaster by mid-February. And a month later the coach was fired.

OK, that's it. Only a few minutes over my deadline. Reminiscing complete.

(Never) take me back.


Big Angry Fish on April 21, 2023 @ 06:18 AM

The rest of the story: A secretary overheard Mike Thomas saying he didn't care if Weber won a Natty, he was out. Secretary runs and tells Weber. Weber being Weber, he runs and tells the team. Moral is gone, team lays down and gets smoked the rest of the season.

Dman68 on April 21, 2023 @ 06:37 AM

I have heard stories that Thomas did not want Zook here either even they team started 6-0 and that was a factor in the teams stumbling in the end.

HiggsBoson on April 21, 2023 @ 07:17 AM

Mike Thomas was hired to get rid of both Weber and Zook and spent a lot of time undermining both. Then followed up by hiring Beckman and Groce. Fortunately all three are gone. plus the president and chancellor who hired them, but not until a lot of damage was done.

larue on April 21, 2023 @ 07:25 AM

Weber and Zook both needed to be fired, and I think their final season reflected their own weaknesses far more than any action by Thomas.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on April 23, 2023 @ 01:03 PM

Dead men walking don't win many games.

Leechcass on April 30, 2023 @ 06:17 PM

Hey! Does spring get capitalized as in Spring scrimmage? Or, is it spring scrimmage? One of the teams I was most proud of was a weak team of Lon's. Not much to look at, but they fought and surprised some people in the B1G tournament.

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