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It’s time to go all-in emotionally

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The Illini are what we wanted them to be.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Fighting Illini emphatically took control of the Big Ten on Wednesday with a huge win over Wisconsin as Kofi Cockburn scored 37.

I want to elaborate on something I touched on in my Twitter video:

“It’s just different now.”

That’s what I want to talk about. I’m among the older members of the Lost Generation of Illini basketball fans. I was a freshman in 2007 when the Illini began wandering in the wilderness for more than a decade.

During that time, they became just another sports team. Don’t get me wrong, they were MY team, and the players were special to me and so were the wins, but they eventually engendered in my generation a hesitancy to go ALL THE WAY IN emotionally. The non-conference was tough in the late Bruce Weber days, and January under John Groce was miserable. Even Brad Underwood started 11-27 in conference play.

He’s since gone 37-13 against the Big Ten. With the bizarre exception of Maryland, there’s nobody in this conference that we’re not ready to dominate.

Generational players like Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn help from a strategy and gameplay standpoint, but we beat Michigan State without Kofi or Andre Curbelo. This team is not only deep, but has substantial contributions from newcomers (most of all Alfonso Plummer, but the freshmen have provided some important minutes as well).

Hanging over our heads this entire time had been a 15-game losing streak to Wisconsin, which ended two years ago with Ayo’s soul-crushing bucket in Madison. Underwood has ended it emphatically to the tune of taking the Big Ten lead from the Badgers on Wednesday.

Perhaps winning has created a belief that winning is possible. Perhaps it’s just a combination of coaching, talent and reps. I don’t really know how it works. What I do know is that this version of Illinois Basketball can play anyone anywhere at any time and reasonably expect to win.

Except for Maryland.