I haven’t gotten to see this Illinois Basketball team in person yet this season, but I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be able to make it to a few. But, from watching the games on TV — BTN+, Pac-12 Network, BTN, ESPN, FS1, you name it — this team is really fun to watch.
And, ya know, for the first time since I started really following them in 2015, this is the most I’ve liked an Illinois squad.
Forget about the facts, and let’s just ride with the emotions. What makes a team likable?
- The Players
- The Wins
- The Games
- The Environment
- The Attitude
Let’s break down each of those five over the next, eh, few hundred words.
This conversation has to start and end with Kofi Cockburn. I’ll go to the grave encouraging people to say his name the right way (just because if they are, then if Illinois is getting the respect it deserves by someone taking the time to learn his name). I wasn’t around (as a diehard) for the Nnanna Egwu days, so this is as close (and much better) as it’ll get. What a likable beast.
Then the guards. I’m still hyped Ayo chose the Illini, and it’s been two years. Trent’s always going to hold a special place in my heart, and then Dre is the same way. Can’t forget about Dre.
And Giorgi. Every fanbase has its golden child. Ours is Giorgi.
These characters all together? That’s a story I want to follow.
Some wins are masterpieces. Beating Hampton by 49 is glorious. Pummeling Lindenwood into the cement under Lou Henson Court is satisfying.
And taking then-No. 5 Michigan wire to wire at home is breathtaking. Of course, the team isn’t undefeated, but I really like the wins, and they’re coming in all different shapes and sizes.
That leads me to the games. Illinois is playing some exciting games, and part of being a fan is enjoying the games your team plays.
There’s only so much fun in Hamptons and Lindenwoods, and as long as they make up for it later on, I really don’t mind Miami and Maryland. This team is still tourney bound at this point, so having thrillers like those are okay in my book.
But not all the games are at home, of course. I love the challenge of the early season Arizona swing, which included some hostile environments and good opponents. The schedule is more doable than last year, and the games are better so far.
State Farm Center still hasn’t reached its breaking point, and I still don’t think it’s reached whatever it was during the Assembly Hall days, but it is certainly getting there.
Seeing it rocking at points in the Michigan game gives me hope that it could be a top environment in college basketball. It’s not there yet, but it hasn’t been dead all the time. Fans are showing up to see this team ball. I like that.
And what is a likable team without having an attitude you can follow.
This is an attitude I can get behind.
#Illini Ayo on Braggin’ Rights game: It’s the next game up, we’re gonna come out prepared and keep doing what we have been doing. Their name is faceless.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) December 15, 2019
Ayo literally called the Tigers “faceless.” How savage is that, right after beating OLD DOMINION. I love it. If this is this team’s identity, it’s a winning identity. No more playing nice.
I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring, but it’s been nearly a dozen games and this team, while not clicking on all cylinders, is bringing me back to life as a fan and giving me hope that it could still work. We’l see if it works now, but, hey, at least I’m liking what I’m seeing right now.