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Illinois Basketball is firmly in the Mike Tyson zone

This team creates a glass case of emotions every night.

Jimmy V Classic - Illinois v Texas Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Bill Simmons has always been one of my favorite writers. I love longform content, and Bill, like myself, eschews brevity for superfluous exposition and slapdash pop culture references.

Thanks, Bill.

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One of Bill’s readers coined the term “Tyson Zone.” It refers to Mike Tyson and his…antics. According to the reader (and subsequently Bill himself), you could say Mike Tyson did absolutely anything, and he would believe it. Iron Mike has been prone to extreme behavior that can neither be predicted nor explained.

Closing Night Gala - Dinner - The Red Sea International Film Festival Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

Some other candidates for the Tyson Zone could include:

  • “Winning” Charlie Sheen
  • Vince McMahon
  • Any rapper who owns a tiger
  • Any former early 2000s pop diva or Nu Metal frontman
  • Most former Celebrity Apprentice contestants (I’m definitely looking at Gary Busey and Herschel Walker)
  • The 1986 New York Mets
  • Jim Harbaugh
  • Anyone whose nickname includes a definite article (“The Nature Boy” and “The Situation” come to mind)
  • Any pro athlete who refers to him/herself in the third person

Seriously, would you be shocked if I told you that Gary Busey was caught licking a cactus on the Sunset Strip?

Would it surprise you if I told you Britney Spears joined the Peace Corps and recorded a charity album with Fred Durst?

If this article started with the headline “Darryl Strawberry and Vince McMahon were arrested for illegally packaging and selling diluted Windex out of Karl Malone’s garage,” would it even register with you?

(Okay, that one probably would).

So why am I talking about the Tyson Zone?

The 2022-23 season for Illinois Men’s Basketball has been straight out of the Tyson Zone.

I don’t understand this season.

The squad has won three in a row in the Big Ten, bringing them back to .500 in conference. This included a win over a ranked Wisconsin squad.

They beat UCLA. Terrence Shannon had one of the most dominant performances in recent Illini history. That history involves two First-Team All-Americans.

And then Shannon went a combined 5-of-15 in losses to perennial Big Ten layups Northwestern and Penn State.

Wisconsin v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

They beat Chris Beard and Texas at Madison Square Garden.

Then they gave up a 16-0 run against Alabama A&M and barely escaped the State Farm Center with a victory.

Matthew Mayer turned up the defensive intensity and became the most reliable three-point shooter on the roster. Seriously, he’s turned into a cross between Dikembe Mutombo and Bill Russell as a shotblocker.

He blocked six shots against Michigan State. I think Coach Tom Izzo only blamed the refs for three of them, so we’re making real progress.

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

But Mayer is the same guy who implied that there was internal strife within the program while not hitting more than three shots in any game until the Texas game.

The roster has had multiple young players step up in spurts. Jayden Epps can score. Sencire Harris and Ty Rodgers may not be consistent scoring threats yet, but they bring significant energy.

And the most highly touted member of the top-10 ranked Illinois Class of 2022, Skyy Clark, has taken leave from the program.

Oh, and a French guy and an Italian guy joined the program at midseason.

This team is nothing if not cosmopolitain.

Up next? A road game in Minneapolis against a Gophers squad that just beat Ohio State.

On one hand, the Illini roster matches up well against Minnesota. The Gophers are led by former Illini target Dawson Garcia, who has recovered well from his lost season in Chapel Hill.

The Illini should be favored.

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So hopefully they don’t go to Matt’s Bar and gorge themselves on Juicy Lucy’s the night before the game.

I hope the January cold doesn’t inspire anyone to attempt to purify themselves in Lake Minnetonka.

(Hey, Lake Minnetonka is beautiful. But less so when it’s frozen solid.)

Maybe Coach Underwood won’t, in anger, scream at his players. Because, you know, that’s what it sounds like when doves cry.

Perhaps the Illini guards will play so well that the Illini faithful will party like it’s 1999. I mean, party like it’s 1989.

Or the Illini could potentially…go crazy in the worst way possible.

And maybe his legendary presence could have at one time solved Illinois’ point guard issues.

(Prince was also a charter member of the Tyson Zone. Seriously, if I said in this column that one day I saw Prince walking down Nicollet Mall and he gave me a Bald Eagle and a plate of pancakes, you wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.)

So this would be a good time to build on the momentum established in the last week.

But remember, we’re in the Tyson Zone.

So anything from a 25-point Illini blowout to a forfeit due to Brad Underwood not liking the team’s energy on the bus ride to the arena could happen.

Either way, this team has certainly not been boring to cover. And if the re-emergence of Shannon and Mayer as the unquestioned leaders and shotmakers is legit, this team could edge closer to its ceiling.

But one thing is for certain: I’m done making predictions about this team.