A Play In Four Acts

Feb 16, 2020

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It's kind of crazy how emotionless this game was for me. One, Ayo is out, and Rutgers is undefeated at home, so I had already counted this one as a loss. Two, it's Rutgers, and I feel no "rivalry" whatsoever. I don't clench my fists when I see their fans celebrating - honestly, I feel kinda happy for them because they have the worst fan situation in all of major conference college sports (no bowl since 2014, no Tournament since 1991). Combine all of that with a game where a so-so shooter goes 5-5 from three and it's over - this isn't a game we're going to win. Whatever.

We also now know that the seven game winning streak was a little bit of smoke and mirrors. OK, yes, no seven game conference winning streak is "smoke and mirrors", but.. we simply didn't know we were playing the bad teams in the conference at the time. As of right now, the class of the conference rests on the east coast: Maryland, Penn State, and Rutgers. When we were beating Purdue and Michigan, we had in our minds that we were beating last year's Purdue and Michigan, but as it turns out, last year's Purdue and Michigan are named Penn State and Rutgers.

Here's probably the best way to put that. The record against the AP top-25 for all of the teams in the Big Ten:

Maryland 3-0
Penn State 4-1
Michigan State 3-4
Rutgers 3-3
Iowa 5-3
Illinois 1-5
Wisconsin 4-3
Ohio State 3-2
Purdue 4-6
Minnesota 2-4
Indiana 4-3
Michigan 4-4
Nebraska 0-5
Northwestern 0-5

And that one win over a ranked team wasn't even during the seven-game winning streak. We beat Michigan when they were #5 in December, and now they're unranked. Which means we've beaten exactly 0 teams in the current top-25.

So yeah, we were overrated and this losing streak was probably inevitable. Up next is Penn State (who might be top-10 on Monday?), and we're not winning that one, especially if Ayo is out. Which means the 8-2 start in the Big Ten is about to become 8-7. The ranking is long gone and the winning streak feels like it was a month ago. As I tweeted this afternoon, please, let's just get this Penn State loss over with so we can begin the business of trying to make one final surge this season.

I've written several times about this stretch of eight games and how I was thinking we'd probably go either 2-6 or 3-4. We won the first three (of the eight) games, and we got all excited, but it looks like we really are going to go 3-5 over this stretch. Let's get the PSU loss over with so we can start Act IV.

If you're curious, here's the first three acts:

Act I: Nicholls State through the game at Michigan State. We lost every meaningful game. Every single one. Didn't have a single game to hang our hat on.

Act II: The seven-game winning streak. Impressive road wins at Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan plus four wins at home. We climbed from Big Ten nobody to appearing in the polls for a month.

Act III: A five-game losing streak. Yes, we've only lost four of those five, but we're not winning at Penn State. We couldn't win at Penn State when we were still ILLINOIS BASKETBALL. Now Penn State finally has a great team and we're absolutely not winning that one. So, five game losing streak here we come.


When we get to 16-10 (8-7) after the PSU loss (I'm trying to triple reverse jinx it here), the "will Illinois go from #19 to out of the Tournament?" takes will be at full volume. 16-10 is a scary spot to be in, especially if Ayo is out for an extended period of time.

For the full game today, I found myself just wanting Act IV to get here. We'll fall to 16-10, and then let's see what we have. A late season surge to push us to a solid seed? Or a late-season collapse where we find ourselves on the bubble or perhaps even in the NIT? I just want to get to the final five games (Nebraska, Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, and Iowa) and then the Big Ten Tournament to see where this all ends up. The seven game winning streak was fun, the four (possibly five) game losing streak has sucked, now let's see the final act.

I tweeted after the Iowa loss (where we played so well) that I thought two things: we're going to go 1-4 over this brutal stretch, and then we're going to the Sweet 16. That's really how I saw the rest of the season playing out. The strength of the Big Ten was going to catch up to us, and then we'd put all of the pieces together, maybe even go on a run in the BTT, and then have a great opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. When things are clicking for this team (just think of that road game at Purdue), they really click.

But when Trent shoots 1-9 from three, and when the team is only 19 for 61 from the floor, this team can look as bad as it did in the second half today. That team (especially when Ayo is out) isn't getting anywhere close to the Sweet 16. It's a bit of a mess right now, with these long stretches (first half against MSU, second half against Rutgers) where it looks like last year.

After Penn State, though, we'll get to see the final act. Five games to close out the regular season + the BTT. Three wins are needed to lock up a bid, and after that, we're playing for seed. The second act made us think we might actually contend for the Big Ten title, and then the third act took that notion and tossed it in the trash. Now, after a bloody scene at Penn State next week, Act IV, where everyone's fate is decided.

Hopefully with Ayo in the leading role.


AHSIllini32 on February 16, 2020 @ 12:01 AM

  1. we probably go 1-4 in this five game stretch with a healthy ayo because I don’t believe we lose this game.

  2. how the hell is rutgers part of the “class of the big ten”?? They’ve won one (1) game away from home this entire year. Their resume is worse than ours and it’s not really that close. either.

orangejulius on February 16, 2020 @ 12:01 AM

Yes we were overrated. Realistically we are a 30-40 team, which is where we are in the net rankings, not a top 25 team. At this point if we can just make the tournament, it will be a successful season. Even with a second round loss. So just do that and next season we will really start cooking, adding 2 top 50 recruits (if Miller comes) plus solving our shooting woes with the transfers added to the mix. We are offensively challenged to say the least-- BU just does not have his team quite yet.

OrangeBlazer on February 16, 2020 @ 02:58 AM

Overrated is probably too strong a word. When we peaked at #19 in the polls, we also peaked at 20 (I believe) in kenpom, and settled around 22-23 for nearly two weeks, even as we lost at Iowa and at home to Maryland. Our ranking was a pretty accurate reflection of our resume and record. That we dropped now doesn't mean we were overrated then, but that our level of play has dropped off and we will now be properly rated to reflect that level of play (unless of course you believe our team's level of play now is the same as it was a month ago).

And I would quibble with the comparison of Michigan (20 kenpom) and Purdue (24 kenpom) this year being Penn State (43 kenpom last year) and Rutgers (78 kenpom) last year.

The 7-game win streak was smoke and mirrors only in the sense that we weren't beating the very best of the best in the conference and therefore weren't really yet proven contenders for the league title. But suggesting that we were beating the equivalent of last year's dregs of the conference is a bit much.

This year's B1G is not last year's B1G. You have Maryland and Penn State (apparently, gross) on one end, Northwestern and Nebraska on the other, and then 10 teams who may all well finish within a game of each other. The difference between 12th and 3rd will be insanely thin (which should also make the conference tourney fun). Each of those teams has major flaws but can also play with anyone when at their best.

We were probably never really going to compete for the title, and after today, it appears Maryland may well run away with it anyway. Yes, we've come back to earth a bit, and now have to focus again on getting to the tourney, instead of the more fun conversation of talking about seed.

But at the end of the day the real story here is an insanely deep league that is almost certain to get 10 teams in the tournament (maybe even 12 if things break just right), arguably the deepest league since the 2011 Big East.

That's the real story behind our play in conference, not smoke and mirrors.

Now, whether we can play fight our way to the front of that 10-team logjam without Ayo will be the real story of the 4th act.

ATOillini on February 16, 2020 @ 10:16 AM

Based on your tweet from yesterday, I don’t believe this game was emotionless for you. When you’re already fretting about next year minus Ayo, then you’re showing emotion. Robert without emotion simply wouldn’t be Robert, and I’m totally ok with that!!

“Triple reverse jinx”......good one.

ktcesw on February 16, 2020 @ 03:58 PM

We are not overrated. The B1G is just so good!!

Groundhogday on February 16, 2020 @ 05:39 PM

We were briefly overrated. Hitting our level now as a team likely on the good side of the bubble.

This team has talent but two big roster holes: no legit 4 and not enough shooting.

It will be tough to improve after losing Ayo and Feliz after this season, but might be possible if next year’s roster is better constructed. Miller and the 2 transfers can shoot. Maybe out of BBV, Grandison and Hawkins we can 25+ mpg at the 4 — assuming Griffin and Giorgi still get some tick at that position. And maybe Curbelo even as a freshman is the best PG we’ve had in a long time.

orangejulius on February 16, 2020 @ 06:37 PM

Shooting is the biggest weakness, but I would also cite a general lack of basketball skill. We've got a bunch of high motor, high character guys who excel at defense and rebounding, but we are deficient in other areas. The 5 players we add next season should make for a much more balanced roster. The conventional wisdom is that we lose Ayo but he's still not on any NBA mock drafts that I can find, and I wonder if it's actually more likely that he'll be back than anything else. No shame in being a 3-4 year player - look at Peyton Pritchard and how he's set himself up to be drafted as a senior.

Groundhogday on February 17, 2020 @ 01:18 AM

Frazier, Feliz and Ayo are skilled basketball players. After that, everyone has a major hole or two in their skill set. Griffin can shoot, but lacks other guard/wing offensive skills. Giorgi can score in the post, but is uncomfortable away from the basket. Nichols is very limited, and then there is Williams!

Boneyard Surfer on February 16, 2020 @ 06:57 PM

Not throwing shade or wishing anything but the best for Ayo, but if day-to-day becomes 2 or 3 weeks, then reduced production for the duration, does he go to the NBA next year?

Where could his draft spot drop to if he is a bit of a question mark physically?

Giovantischixstripz on February 17, 2020 @ 02:45 PM

I don't think his draft stock will drop unless he still isn't healthy for pre-draft workouts. So I think he is gone barring a really horrible setback in his recovery.

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