Being an Illini fan these days is beyond difficult. In case you missed it, between football and men’s and women’s basketball, Illinois is on a 24-game Big Ten losing streak. It’s hard to see the good in an 0-6 team, but there were all kinds of different moments in the 64-63 loss to the Huskers.
- Trent Frazier: Wow, I mean this kid just seems to be getting better and better. He had another great shooting night, finishing with a team-high 19 points and dropping five dimes. He only shot 1-of-4 from three-point land, but it is clear he is the future of this team. It should be fun to see him against even tougher opponents, like Purdue and Michigan States.
- Michael Finke: It was refreshing to see Finke show up in a conference game, and he might have had the greatest effect for the Illini. With the second half closing, Finke drained an and-one three and made the ensuing free throw to put Illinois up by two with eight seconds left on the clock. His 10 rebounds (five on the offensive end) didn’t go unnoticed, either.
- Competing consistently: During football season, I tried every week to take positives from the game because I knew it was going to be a lousy season. By the end, people probably thought I was crazy. The difference I see in this year’s basketball team, despite being 0-6 in conference, is being able to compete consistently. I remember traveling to Madison over winter break my freshman year of college, which might be the last time this team was ever ranked. They lost to the Badgers by 25. I have no doubts that will never happen with Underwood’s Illini.
- 3-point shooting: Illinois has not been shooting the ball well from long range this year. Monday’s game was a bit worse than average, with the Illini only tallying three treys on 18 attempts. (Spoiler: all three of them were from Finke or Frazier.) Jordan was 0-for-1, Mark Smith was 0-for-3, and Mark Alstork was 0-for-3, just to name a few.
- Late game losses: The flip side of being in every game is that it seems every game comes down to the wire. A young Illini team simply has not figured out how to win those games yet, and that might be the worst part of this season, as if we didn’t have enough heartbreak as a fan base.
- Another Big Ten Loss: The Illini are still winless in conference play, and the road doesn’t appear to get much easier from here. They have yet to play Michigan State, Purdue or surprise Buckeyes. Check social media — particularly Twitter — and you will see plenty of fans already panicking. I’m not there yet, because everything I see if an improvement from the Groce era. But that doesn’t make it disappointing that an NIT bid would seem good at this point.