Illinois vs. Indiana is my favorite game(s) of the college basketball season. I was born in Illinois. I have lived in Indiana since I was three years old.
There are a few clues to who I root for in this matchup: 1) my dad is a huge Fighting Illini fan and 2) look at the name of this blog.
Like any good father, my dad brainwashed me as soon as I came out of the womb to root for his favorite team. He did an effective enough job of that, even though I’ve spent 29 of my 33 years on Earth living in Indiana, Fighting Illini sports teams are the teams I am most loyal to.
Certainly being born in Illinois (shouts to my Effingham people) has provided an added Illini-shaped hook in my heart. It was another anchor that helped me hang on during my high school and college years surrounded by IU fans. I came through my adolescence/young adult period without wavering in the slightest in my adoration for Illinois Athletics. The 2004-05 men’s basketball team definitely helped.
My brother, however, was born in Indiana and even finished his undergraduate degree in Bloomington - I’ll let you guess how often I call him a traitor - so he exists in a permanent state of fan-duality. He still considers himself and Illini fan, but I don’t ever want to know what’s going on in his brain when when the two teams play each other. And that’s fine, obviously. Attending a big time university and not coming away as a life-long is fairly rare, I would guess.
And so Illinois vs. Indiana - in any sport, but especially basketball - has always been an interesting dichotomy for me. To drive the point home even further, their dang basketball arenas had the same name until recently, and their football stadiums still do.
I never thought much about my unwavering support when I was younger, but now, looking back, I see the difficulty people around me must have had. I had, after all, lived in Indiana for most of my life. Who the hell was I to give Hoosiers fans crap when I rooted for the university from the state next door?
We would go to Champaign on occasion to see football or basketball games, but, through visiting my brother and work related matters, I have probably spent more time in Bloomington overall. I watched the Illini play at Indiana twice in football. On the first occasion my brother was still attending classes and we made the dumb decision to sit in the student section wearing Illinois gear. I’ll never know how we came away unscathed. We didn’t make that mistake two years later.
Some of my closest friends graduated from IU. My brother married a former Hoosiers soccer player. I’m still surrounded by Indiana fans. With each matchup between the two teams comes the opportunity for either great gloating or unrelenting harassment.
Neither team is great this season, but Illinois is decidedly worse off, being winless so far in Big Ten play. I can’t think of a better way for the Illini to get their first conference win. Tip-off can’t get here soon enough.
Oh, also, Tyler Griffey forever.