Hello, Illinois Fighting Illini fans!
Congratulations to Illinois for winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title this year and for their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Kofi Cockburn and company will try to erase the disappoint of last year's NCAA Tournament when Kofi, Ayo Dosunmu, and company were stunned in the second round by Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago despite being a #1 seed. Illinois was attempting to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since the magical 2005 run to the national championship title game, the best team in Illinois men's basketball history.
After Illinois's first round opponent was announced, it took me a day but then I figured out why the name Chattanooga sounded familiar. The year was 1997. If you are a traditional University of Illinois student, you weren't born yet so I suggest not continuing with this FanPost. I graduated from Illinois in 1995 so I was two years removed from my days at Urbana. We had some decent teams at my days at U of I. We made the NCAA Tournament three of the four years there, missing only my freshman year, and made the second round in 1993. I missed the 1989 Final Four run by a few years (I was still in high school and I wasn't a big Illinois fan back then because I grew up in Pennsylvania). 1996 was legendary coach Lou Henson's (RIP) last year at Illinois.
In 1997, Illinois hired Lon Kruger from Florida where he led them to a Final Four in 1994. Illinois missed the NCAA Tournament in 1996 but went back in 1997. That year the Illini won their first NCAA Tournament game and the only team preventing them from their first Sweet 16 since the 1989 "Flying Illini" was a #14 seed. In the history of the NCAA Men's Tournament since they expanded to 64 teams, #14 seeds are 22-122 in the first round. In 19 of 36 tournaments, at least one #14 seed has lost in the first round. Yet only TWO #14 seeds have ever advanced to the Sweet 16 in NCAA Tournament history. One of those two was Chattanooga in 1997 over our beloved Illini. Here's an article I found from the Chicago Tribune archives. The loss hurt more considering Chattanooga lost in the Sweet 16 round to #10 seed Providence. Illinois would have been the favorite at least in seed in the next round as well although if Illinois can't beat a #14 seed it's hard to say they would have beat a #10 seed either. For those interested, the other #14 seed to make the Sweet 16 was Cleveland State in 1986.
Did the NCAA Selection Committee have a sense of humor pitting Illinois against an opponent that gave Ihem one of the biggest losses in school history? Will Illinois be matched up in 2023 vs. Austin Peay and does anyone college aged think Austin Peay is a person? I post this for the simple reason that I'm sure you heard the phrase "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." If Illinois treats Chattanooga like the 1997 Chattanooga team, they will lose. In the Chicago Tribune article, Lon Kruger denies Illinois disrespected Chattanooga but Chattanooga claimed they heard disrespect from Illinois.
" Once upon a time there was Watergate. Sunday there was the Wall. Followed quickly by Wallgate.
As if losing the way they did wasn't nightmare and punishment enough for undersized Illinois. The world didn't respect us, claimed the Tennessee-Chattanooga Moccasins. Neither did Illinois. We know, claimed the Mocs, because we heard the Illini carrying on in their locker room before the game. As if, said point guard Willie Young, "they were going out to play a scrimmage."
Let's hope this history doesn't repeat itself vs. Chattanooga this Friday. If Brad Underwood needs any motivation, just look up this result and show the team.