There's no overcoming this.
In the past five years, Illinois has lost to UIC, Bradley, Utah, Georgia and Nebraska (by 30 points). The loss on Sunday to Northwestern was worse. It's the worst Illini loss I've seen. It's a damning loss that destroys our NCAA tournament resume, which is ripped to shreds and lying on the floor in Evanston right now. We can hope to pick up some pieces. We might even be able to grab a few wins and tape some of those scraps back together, but come season's end, all we'll have is a rough-edged ransom note that says, "We lost to Northwestern." It might as well say that we still wet the bed, which frankly, we do.
This is a joke. A mean joke. A personal joke that hurts your feelings, and gets the whole Big Ten class to point and laugh, while you run away and never come back. We just called the teacher "Mom." We showed up to school naked.
Northwestern is terrible. They lost to DePaul (also dreadful). They've been blown out by an average of 25 points in the Big Ten, playing Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin thus far. They're best win is against Western Michigan, who is 9-5 in the MAC and lost to North Dakota State. They won't win another Big Ten game this season. And they played pretty awful on Sunday night as well.
The loss devastates the season, but it inflicted much more damage to the big picture. John Groce focuses less on results, more on progression and improvement, so how can he answer for this one? Why did Illinois only press with three minutes remaining in the game? Why did the offense run the same play, the same motion, over and over and over, each possession as unsuccessful as the last? Why weren't we ready to play?
The Illinois program lost momentum on Sunday. We had a strong finish last season, a Braggin' Rights win this season, and all the variables for this program to finally turn the corner. We had, finally, some excitement. Now we have a black eye. We got mugged in the street and dragged back to the starting point. There's damage. This loss leaves a wound, and it's sure to fester.
The love affair--my love affair--with Coach Groce ended this weekend, not because he still can't be great. He can. But he isn't perfect. He's as much to blame as any player for that showing on Sunday, and he's worthy of this interrogation. We didn't lose this one because we weren't tough, or together. We lost this one because we played a horrendous team and still couldn't run an offense that worked.
If you're reading this thinking this is over dramatic, you're correct. It is. This loss will settle in and the sting will slowly subside. And, on the other side, if you're reading this and agreeing with every point, know that consolation as well. We'll own this one and be okay.
But I'm not sure we can overcome it. Not anytime soon, at least. We'll remember this beating for quite awhile.