The Illinois Fighting Illini
came into this year with across-the-board top 15 preseason national
rankings. Yet here they are receiving no votes at all (deservedly so) in
either poll for the past few weeks, under .500 in conference, and
squarely on the NCAA bubble.
In other words, grossly underachieving and not even remotely close to
meeting expectations. And it’s not just this year’s expectations. The
current nucleus (Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey)
have been starting for three straight years. So one would expect them
to peak this season…so much for that! Throw in a recruiting class that
was highly regarded on a national college basketball level, and this WAS the year Illini fans have been looking to since 2008.
Kind of depressing isn’t it? Go here for more on that. It’s a very emotional description of how soul-sucking this season has been for the Illini fan base. What follows here after the photo gallery is a more anecdotal and objective description of the same soul-sucking season from hell.
Or at least the five biggest lowlights of it.
I know what you’re saying “Only 5?!?!
What about the upset at Indiana? The fact that three teams have
rushed the court against them? Tisdale’s failure to show up in countless
big games? The highly regarded freshmen doing very little? Weber’s
ridiculous line-up shuffling conveying desperate grasping at straws?…and
on and on…Well, 10 was just too much for me.
Reading these five will make Illini fans feel suicidal enough as it is.
5. Failing to Close out Purdue and Ohio State at home
Read on to see why I combined these two moments into one. Many people
call this team unpredictable and to some extent that is true. I get why
people think this team is hard to figure. But you can always count on
two things in 2010-11: they don’t win conference road games (they have
one more than DePaul this season), and they never pull upsets over better teams.
They had a very good chance to give #1 and undefeated at the time Ohio State
their first loss, but right around the 12 minute mark they instead
shifted their play from loose and free to “trying not to lose.” Against
Purdue, they held a second half lead, but because this team has no
leadership at all, and the seniors are all mental midgets, so no one
rose up to motivate them. And they left both top ten teams off the hook.
4. Giving up a decade’s worth of points
On Tuesday, the Illini gave up 89 points in Columbus. That’s the most for a regulation game since 2001.
3. Demetri McCamey’s midseason disappearance
Wow, did he pick the wrong time to have a slump. Over a very crucial
portion of the season, his FG% dipped into the twenties. And he was a
total no-show in both of the games mentioned in #5.
2. 26 point turnaround/collapse at Northwestern
Illinois KILLED Northwestern at home. That 25 point spread in the
first game might as well have been 55. Yet they couldn’t win on the road
against the same exact team just a couple weeks later? A home-road
swing is worth 26 points? How is that even humanly possible? If you try
to find any more logic in that, your head will explode.
1. The UIC debacle
Who knew that one of the worst losses in school history would start
the death spiral? Why did the Illini use their premium United Center
game to schedule their sister school located across the street? And even
scheduling this game, win or lose, does nothing to help your RPI. This
wasn’t just a historic win for UIC, it was by far the biggest win of the
year for a Flames team that is 7-22, 2-15 in conference.
Brian Barnhart, the voice of the Illini, on Big Ten
Network’s “the Journey” said this game proved “they can’t handle
success.” And when someone that close to the team, the actual mouthpiece
says it…And it’s true, this team, especially the seniors are afraid of
success. To quote Yoda, “and that is why you fail.”
But hey, at least the football team got a bowl win, and college football spring practice starts soon. Never thought you’d hear that phrase about the Illini!
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank