A snow storm blocking my satellite conspired to keep me from seeing anything more than the ESPN highlight package of the Illinois game and an insanely busy day at work prevented me from spending the entire day pissed off about losing a game I wasn’t even able to watch. But the work day is done and despite my better judgement I watched the game streaming on ESPN3.
Here are the most important takeaways from the game, both in the moment night and now.
I hate Illinois. If you’ve read Phone Calls? by now you know that that wasn’t always the case. My general lifelong feeling about Illinois was, at best, indifference. They hadn’t done much in my life time to make me care about them one way or another. I had a brief flirtation with hating them while Bruce Weber was the coach, but when he was fired I assumed I’d go back to not caring. After all, this is a school that displays, “Five Final Fours” across their scorers table. This is me. Slow clapping your record of almost winning something five different times. Illinois isn’t worth caring about. But after Thursday night, I find myself in the position of caring again. I hate Illinois, but more than that, I hate having to feel anything about them at all. They aren’t worth it.
But here I sit, on the chip and full hot about Illinois.
But why am I so angry? Is it because we lost to Illinois and that is somehow worse than losing to any other team? In a word, yes. It’s worse. Here’s why. Illinois isn’t any good. Don’t let the wins they have fool you. Go back and watch the game. They’re bad. And when you lose to a bad team when you are in a position to play for championships, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
And while losing to a bad team sucks, this is so much worse than that. Because of stupid reality. Going into that game we were looking at five road games to close out Big Ten play, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan. Which one of these kids is not like the others? All road games are tough, but we just lost the easiest one of the five to win. Which means we need to get at least one back against Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan. I was getting to the point where I thought we might need to win three out of these five games to win the Big Ten, Illinois, Minnesota and one of the other three. Now we need Minnesota and two of the other three, and because of the stupid loss to stupid Illinois, one of those has to be Sunday at Ohio State.
Indiana basketball: The most persistent traveler down the path that is NOT the one of least resistance.
Are we good enough to win the Big Ten, grab a #1 seed and play for the title in Atlanta? Yes. Without question. Is there a team in the country we can’t beat? No. We’re good enough to beat anyone by 10.
And despite what Adam will tell you, winning the Big Ten and securing a #1 seed with games in the midwest is huge, because again, it’s the easiest path to the Atlanta.
But the Illinois game seems to be an indicator that while things could play easy, sometimes things just gotta play hard.
But with a loss to Ohio State on Sunday, hard would become unlikely. I think four losses is good enough to win the Big Ten, but the last thing I want to see is a trip to Michigan on March 10 without a 1 game lead on Michigan. Because there’s no scenario where we go to Ann Arbor tied for the Big Ten lead where I would feel good about our chances going in.
To win the Big Ten title this year, when the Big Ten is extremely tough, is going to require winning all the games we should and a couple we maybe shouldn’t. Losing to Illinois is the exact opposite of that. So, I’m bothered.
Most of that will go away if we beat Ohio State on Sunday, but we’re going to have to play much better, turn the ball over a lot less, and guard all of the players on every inbounds pass. Something we couldn’t do against stupid Illinois.
Arrgh. I hate hating them so much.