About one month ago Illinois fans were looking fondly on their program. With marquee wins over some of the Big Ten’s best, many fans — present company included — thought this team had the talent and potential to win 75 percent or more of their remaining games to close out the Big Ten season.
However, following an improbable win on the road over Ohio State, the Illini went a paltry 1-5 to finish the Big Ten slate.
The question remains of how the Illini went on such a stretch in late January and early February that made Illinois appear to be one of the country’s scariest teams. How does a team go from beating Maryland on the road, Michigan State at home, and Ohio State on the road to getting beat by some of the worst in the Big Ten to finish the regular season? Is Underwood’s squad closer to 1-10 than to 10-1? Are they truly relegated to being one of the worst in the Big Ten again this season?
The program hasn’t reached 10 conference wins since 2010 and is on its way to missing a sixth straight NCAA Tournament. For reference, the Illini had not missed back-to-back tournaments since their stretch in 1900-92. Now, in year six of misery, fans are expected to trust the process and be patient.
Frankly, I’m tired of patience. Show me results. It is absolutely asinine to expect fans to be OK with another losing season, one that features the most losses in program history. Neat stuff.
Brad Underwood now owns the worst and fifth worst seasons in Illinois Men’s Bastketball history. Yet I am told my negativity is the real problem with Illinois sports. Gotcha.
The Season Is Almost Over
I am so tired of being this invested in a team that has shown little to no improvement in this decade. I don’t easily recall a team that has been this inept this long. The 2019-20 season will be the litmus test for Underwood. If the idea is stability at Illinois, that stability must be accompanied by results.
In his first two seasons Underwood has taken a nearly 20-win team to an average of 12.5. I know the fanboys will come to the defense of Underwood citing the grueling schedule the Illini have played. Know who isn’t good? Norte Dame, Xavier, Missouri, Florida Atlantic. Four games the Illini should have been able to win. Four games a good team should win. Instead, Illinois lost those four matchups en route to the worst season for this program — a program that started in 1905.
I look for the days where Illinois returns to where we once were. From 1996-2014, Illinois finished with fewer than 20 wins only three times. Each successive season saw an increase of 6-plus wins from their sub-20 win season. Every time I think my team has hit rock bottom, I find out it can get worse.
In 2019, Illinois must see gainful improvement or there must be large scale changes in the staff in Champaign.
Lack of Points Off Forced Turnovers
Overall, the stat line for each team is fairly similar by comparison. Steals, fouls, rebounds, most stats are close between Illinois and Penn State. The issue I have remains from the lack of defensive effort, the lack of forced turnovers, and the lack of pressure Illinois made their trademark during their positive stretch run.
Sure, 15 turnovers is solid. Yet, while the Illini were able to force some turnovers, there was little to no positive result from said turnovers. Illinois scored seven points on 15 turnovers. I’m no math major, but that means for every TWO turnovers, the Illini gained one point.
I would be curious to see what the points off turnovers were for Illinois for the season. I’m willing to guess it is in the bottom 20 percent of all of college basketball.
Locking Up the Wednesday Game In The Big Ten Tournament
Illinois now heads to Chicago where it will play Northwestern on Wednesday night in the Big Ten Tournament. At least nobody there will show up to see America’s Big Ten Team take on Chicago’s Big Ten Team.
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