For the second year in a row, no team won more regular season B1G games than the Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois has multi-year winning streaks of four or more games going against more than half of their B1G foes. Let’s go streaking, shall we?
Wisconsin Badgers 4 games, last win 2019 (still about 100 shy of catching up from the Grinch vs Groce era)
Northwestern Wildcats 8 games, last win 2019 (we play them a lot)
Iowa Hawkeyes 5 games, last win 2020 (lol)
Michigan Wolverines 5 games, last win 2019 (courtesy of John Beilein)
Penn State Nittany Lions 4 games, last win 2019
Nebraska Cornhuskers 5 games, last win 2018
Minnesota Gophers 4 games, last win 2019
Illinois gathered a share of the B1G title because Wisconsin stupidly decided to keep playing games when it was clearly in their best interest to refuse to play, so kudos to Greg Gard and the boys for not taking the chickenshit path that some other teams have traveled in previous years.
This was a team with one star in the paint surrounded by a corp of experienced shooters that had high expectations, beginning the year ranked #11 in the polls behind only Purdue and Michigan amongst their B1G brethren. Brad Underwood did a remarkable job in my opinion, holding this team together despite tying with Houston for having the most games missed by rotation players in the nation. (more on Houston in a bit) It was an incredible collection of maladies that I never recall a team having to face. A dude’s effing appendix burst! That’s some crazy stuff. 10 of the top 11 players in the rotation missed time. Two concussions, two shoulder injuries, two back injuries, a knee, and a groin injury? Sure, that happens but when a kid has a midseason appendectomy and half the team is playing the postseason with pinkeye, that’s unusual.
But everyone only wants to talk about the tournament, right? For the second year in a row, Illinois faced the most underseeded team in the field according to Kenpom in the second round and for the second year in a row, Illinois went home with the L in the round of 32.
I can sincerely say that I don’t care about that. We lost to a team that was a 4.5 point favorite in Vegas. It happens. But we also will have a nice shiny banner to hang in the State Farm Center that says B1G champions and (almost) all of you can suck it, because you didn’t win jack.
I would like to take a minute to thank our two fifth year senior guards, Damonte Williams and Trent Frazier. They both committed to John Groce, held those commitments through a coaching change to Brad Underwood and remained committed to changing Illinois basketball as they struggled through two of the worst seasons in Illinois history. Trent Frazier was then asked to buy in to reduced role in the offense his third season and become a defensive stopper. Lots of guys hit the transfer portal at that point, but he remained committed to Illinois and became the best on ball pick and roll defender in the country (according to metrics, not just because I said so) by his senior year. Opponents only scored .59 PPP when their guy with the ball started a PNR action while guarded by Frazier. They didn’t have to come back for a fifth year, but they did and I, for one, appreciate the hell out of them for it. I’m sure some of you will be happy to see them go and I guarantee that your coaches and players will be happy to not see them in the Orange and Blue next year, but they will be missed by this guy. Guys like them are why I prefer college sports to the pros, because they love my team as much as I do. Thank you, Mr. Frazier and Mr. Williams.
Looking forward to next year, sadly Andre Curbelo is in the transfer portal and is likely headed to St. Johns. He was a fun player to watch and I truly wish health and happiness to him in the future. Also, Omar Payne is in the portal. He has tremendous upside, but never really fully realized it at Florida or Illinois, although having Collin Castleton and Kofi Cockburn ahead of you on the depth chart is tough. No word yet on the street for possible destinations for Omar. In addition to Williams and Frazier, Alfonso Plummer is out of eligibility. Replacing Curbelo’s spot on the roster will be newly committed 5* PG Skyy Clark, who decommitted from Kentucky when the assistant who recruited him left (Oh my, the irony)
Skyy will take on both the role of best hair on the team and PG from Curbelo. The internet rumor mill says Grandison is likely gone and Cockburn is likely back next year. I went to a few message boards to see about who might else be coming or going, but I feel about those places like Obi-Wan Kenobi felt about Mos Eisley and didn’t want to wade through the muck, so who knows. One guy who isn’t leaving though...
Brad Underwood Receive Contract Extension. Underwood has led a remarkable resurgence of our men's bball program," said Whitman. We won #B1G championships, posted one of the best 3-year runs in the history of #Illini men's bball & the B1G, & re-established ourselves nationally. pic.twitter.com/pomwTdetuW— Kedric Prince (@KedPrince4) March 30, 2022
It would’ve been a really crazy story if K-State had hired another former Illini coach to lead their program, but our current AD isn’t a tightwad who goes all headmaster from Oliver Twist when coaches want to get paid. The way, way, way too early polls for next year have Illinois ranked between 11-17 that I’ve seen.