We can finally see the forest for the trees, a bit.
After the 71-64 victory over Nebraska yesterday, there is a sense of optimism going forward for the Illini.
The offense, in particular, has really picked up the pace and found some semblance of consistency.
So, what comes next? Building off of said progress. Keep pushing the tempo. Giving youth a good, long look to see what pieces fit for the future. Work on perimeter defense and rebounding. Play the spoiler and work on promulgating a winning culture throughout the clubhouse. In essence, keep up the momentum.
It should be an easier road than you might think. After a tough matchup against No. 6 Michigan State at home, things start to loosen up. One game against Rutgers, improved from last year, but still a winnable game. Ohio State on the road, and the Buckeyes suddenly look very mortal in recent weeks. Northwestern at home. Penn State to end the season. All fairly winnable games. Throw in Indiana at home, a team reeling, and there could be some good juju going into the Big Ten Tournament. Win a game or two and knock out some bubble teams along the way. That would be progress in most people's minds.
Will that translate to success next season though? I think the biggest answer to that is recruiting this cycle.
Kofi Cockburn is a great get for what we need. A big mountain of a man who can bully teams down low. Antwan January adds an athletic, tall scorer who could complement this team nicely. Add a big-time wing and this class could shift the expectations for 2019-20.
Of course, it's all predicated on Ayo staying (not necessarily a given with his recent play), and little attrition (not guaranteed), but next year's outlook could be seen through rose-colored glasses. Make that orange and blue glasses.
Right now, however, the focus should be to finish strong and create some excitement for a fanbase that needs something to go right for a change. Competing with MSU at home would be a fine start.
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