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The NCAA Tournament and the Outpourings of an Illini Fan

The NCAA Tournament was a true joy. It'll be better once we're in it.


I do. I do love college athletics. I'll speak to Illinois because that's the path this affection travels through. The rest of the college landscape is the sea of in-laws, and the Fighting Illini are mine--and yours. I love this family dearly.

I do. Those two words are also used at weddings, albeit with significantly less meaning when referring to basketball. Still, they skim along that same surface, gathering up words like "commitment" and "occasional heartbreak."

I miss Illinois making deep tournament runs because watching your significant other's brothers and sisters have all the fun isn't quite as great as the personal experience. We had it once in the past decade and we talk about it like the world still cares. Our in-laws might think us strange. Perhaps they think us selfish. But wanting an invitation to the party isn't a self-centered request.

Here's the thing though: I think the world still does care.

If you haven't seen the ad, it's a LG regular commercial that ends with the greatest shot in Illinois history--Deron Williams to tie Arizona in the 2005 Elite 8. Cruel and wonderful all at once.

The fact that LG chose that video clip from that game says a lot about this program and the heights it has once reached. LG doesn't have the built up energy and memories that an Illinois crowd has. They just want to sell products. And what clip do they use to get your attention? This one.

I watch that commercial and that clip, and I can't help but feel like this program has more prestige than the numbers indicate. The data says we don't have the credentials of other prestigious programs. Illinois has only been a regular member of the dance, rarely the star of it. From the 1953 to 1975, the NCAA Tournament allowed up to 25 teams and Illinois was included in the field only once. In 1975, two things happened: the NCAA Tournament format changed to allow 32 teams in the field, and Illinois hired Lou Henson.

In the three decades since, things have obviously changed, started by savior Henson and exaggerated by the season shown above. When you reach the Final Four, you want to go back. When you reach the National Championship, that want becomes a need, inherently primal, and you're left with an Assembly Hall that can be downright angry.

Since John Groce arrived, that energy has slightly dissipated (I think the Indiana buzzer beater was a necessary release), although it's still very much present. From an outside perspective, I can understand how it seems ridiculous for a Championship-less fanbase to be so passionate. But what makes sense doesn't match how I feel.

I'm pouring out my biased perspective here, so I called this an outpouring. I also called myself a fan, of both college basketball (shining brightly through this NCAA Tounament) and the Fighting Illini. But it's about time I'm not forced to mention the two separately.

Even LG thinks so.