clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Illinois keeps overcoming adversity. Can it happen one more time?

Illinois may be unpredictable, but it’s made major progress.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

How were you feeling about Illinois Fighting Illini basketball back on Dec. 23, 2022?

The day before was the historically lopsided Braggin’ Rights loss to the Missouri Tigers. Coupled with the earlier blowout loss in Champaign to the Penn State Nittany Lions, we were beginning to realize that something was seriously amiss.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It was in that context that I wrote at the time:

All that’s important now is how the team responds to the coaching staff and regroups for the rest of the season. In other words, the season is at an inflection point...[t]he team either comes out stronger than ever, or completely collapses.”

But things would only get worse from there. Illinois would soon be clobbered by the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston and fall to 9-5 on the season. Shortly after, then-starting PG Skyy Clark took an absence from the team with no timetable to return.

I’ll be honest, I was fearing the worst at the time.

It was easy to see that this team had plenty of talent, but also major issues related to on-court performance and team chemistry that were in danger of jeopardizing a potentially successful season.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of collapsing, this team bounced back and managed to sweep the defending conference co-champion Wisconsin Badgers, beat ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Northwestern teams at home, and are now a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament at 19-10. Furthermore, Jayden Epps solidified his role as a more-than-capable lead guard, and Ty Rodgers came into his own both offensively and defensively.

This squad has overcome plenty of adversity over the course of a roller coaster season. Their resilience should not be underestimated, and it says something that they’ve only had back-to-back losses once this year.

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

I feel confident heading into the home matchup with the Michigan Wolverines and I think it’s likely that the Illini pick up at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament to further boost their stock.

As much as it felt like the recent loss in Columbus to Ohio State seemed like a major missed opportunity, just remember what this team has already been through and overcome in its journey to get to this point. When you look back on the toughness that they’ve demonstrated and their body of work, it helps you to feel much more optimistic in what’s yet to come.