My contract stipulates that I am to provide Fair And Balanced coverage of Illinois Fighting Illini athletics, and after an ode to the magic of Ayo Dosunmu, I’d like to share a story from the other side.
When College Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Fahey took over Illini women’s hoops back in 2017, it was in rough shape. It had been for quite some time; after a 12-year run of hovering above .500 in Big Ten play under Theresa Grentz, Jolette Law looked capable of sustaining that level of competence for a few years until 2010-11, when it all unraveled and the 9-23 Illini finished dead last. This killed off the last spark of fan interest for this program, which had been bleeding support to an ascendant women’s volleyball program that routinely packed Huff Hall. Law was summarily fired after a last gasp season produced a 9th place finish.
Matt Bollant was hired from Green Bay to try and give Illinois a shot in the arm, but a promising debut led to two last place finishes in five years, a 22-62 conference record and Iowa Football-esque allegations of racist treatment and a hostile and untenable environment complete with an investigation by the university.
Josh Whitman, figuring this program had nothing to lose, hired Nancy Fahey from D3 Washington University in St. Louis where she’d coached for three decades, winning five national titles and four in a row at one point. Fahey was tasked with reviving a program whose players openly wondered why it still existed.
All of this is to give you some context for the following statistic:
Illinois Fighting Illini women’s basketball under Nancy Fahey is 5-58 in Big Ten games.
Ten days ago, they picked up their first conference win of the season against a Purdue team that currently sits twelfth. After losing all their B1G games in year 1, Fahey’s squad knocked off then-#12 Minnesota and a Wisconsin team that would finish 13th to finish...last in the conference again. Last season, they rocketed to 13th place by defeating 11th-place Minnesota and last-place 1-17 Penn State.
Fahey’s overall record is 33-71 in her fourth year at the helm, and the only thing saving her from more scrutiny is the near-invisibility of Illini women’s basketball. This condition existed before her and hasn’t really changed.
For her part, she’s brought in Nancy Panagiotopoulou-Andritsopoulou, who has yet to be a program-changer but is a first-team All-Name Team candidate.
It would be an incredible story if Fahey eventually turned this into even a top-10 program in the Big Ten, but it seems so unlikely that the only reason to keep monitoring the situation is to see how spectacular that conference record becomes before Whitman pulls the plug.
Illinois tips off at #9 Maryland in about ten minutes.