You have no doubt seen a Twitter posting here and there from an Illini basketball fan/pundit/media member that goes something like this:
This team could lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, or make it all the way to the Final Four. Maybe you have already even Tweeted that yourself? This is a statement that definitely feels true, but it’s also on that invites annoying, inaccurate rhetoric.
Media pundits, both national and local, like to call this team the most unpredictable in the nation; a squad that is very much all-or-nothing. The narrative seems to be “on any given night, they can beat anybody, but at the same time, when they’re off, they could also be beaten by anybody.”
Or what really happens is said announcer/pundit says the first part, then dances around the second part by saying something more mollifying and vague.
However, that’s what happens these days, as sports media coverage often gets more hyper-sensitive, as the world today is filled with thin-skinned people.
Guess you can blame social media and the rise of league/team owned networks for that.
Anyway, you don’t have to label Illini basketball, in this season, as a dichotomy. You don’t have to say that they are the apex and the nadir, you can just be real.
It’s just that if you’re going to dichotomize, you need to list out both polarities. If you mention their highs, then you got to state the lows too.
The idea being that you can just be fair and even-handed, in whatever lane you pick.
Really, at the end of the day, it is totally normal, and even understandable to not have strong feelings about this specific Illini basketball squad.
Let’s take a look at the Illinois NCAA Tournament resume entering Sunday Feb 19.
2022-23 Illini Basketball Profile
Record: 17-9, 8-7 in the league, currently #8 in the Big Ten Tournament (The John Groce Invitational! The BTT #8 vs #9 Thursday morning game) projection.
Resume Wins: UCLA, Texas, Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin (twice)
#28 in NET, Quad 1 record 3-7, Quad 2 record 4-1, #25 in KenPom, likely NCAA Tournament projection: #6 or #7 seed.
Inconsistency is the feature, not the bug, with this Illini basketball team. They are who they are. Nothing is going to change, in that regard, between now and Selection Sunday.
The common narrative is that this team prone to massive swings, extreme highs and lows, but there is a much better explanation.
It’s a very down year for the league, and there’s just a lot of parity. You have about nine or ten teams, in the 14 team league that are just okay to decent, but nothing much better or worse.
This Illini basketball team is exactly like most of the league: not all that great, but not bad either. Nothing to get all too excited about. It’s just hard to say anything extremely superlative about a team that got swept by Penn State, and refused to actually show up for the Braggin’ Rights game.
Yes, that was two months ago, but remember that game was staged in the heart of a historically strong winter storm. Everybody who invested time and money into showing up for that game put, at the very least their Christmas holiday plans, at the most their physical safety, in serious jeopardy.
And the Illini responded by not putting in an effort night. And there have been a couple other games this season, where, whether it is reality or not, they look like aren’t really motivated.
So how is the Illini basketball fan supposed to get extremely motivated then in response? The question every Illini basketball fan asks themselves- why can’t they be, as good as they have shown us they can really be, more consistently?
Is it effort and motivation? (It certainly looked like that against Mizzou, Penn State, Indiana and Northwestern) And if so, then how you can actively support a team where that truly is the case?
Honestly, they actually do embody their current record and resume perfectly. They are who they are, and when you are your record, it embodies the Parcellsian maxim.
It’s just that the route they took to get to this record is much less interesting/unique/polarizing/special than most media people will tell you.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.
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