2022 NCAAT II - SHWD Chattanooga
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Remember the game at Wisconsin where Ayo hit the three over Brad Davison? The game which we can now point to as the turning point - that one? I didn't watch the end of that game. I turned it off. I spend all this time waiting to point to the "and it just got better and better and better from there" moment and then I'm not watching when it happens.
Let me go dig up the latest bar code image. It's not fully updated with the Indiana loss in the BTT but I don't have time to go update it right now. Here's every Big Ten game since Underwood took over, orange for wins, blue for losses.
See the fifth game of 2019-20 there? The second game of that big patch of orange right in the middle? That was the Wisconsin game. We had beaten Purdue at home the game before, so technically that was the beginning of the surge, but Purdue was bad that year and a home win didn't mean that much. Winning at Wisconsin for the first time in what seemed like six decades, that was the moment.
And I missed it. Turned the game off. Just couldn't do it. There are times when it just gets to be too much, and that was one of those times. I tweeted this at halftime...
Thinking about not watching the second half. I’ve moved a step beyond “this isn’t healthy for me” and simply can’t handle seeing another Wisconsin fan being happy.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 9, 2020
...and then watched three New Girl episodes with my wife instead of watching that game. Turned my phone off, behaved as if Illini basketball didn't exist. Turned my phone back on after the game, saw that Illinois won, and then watched the second half (I recorded it - I'm not a monster).
There were other things going on at that moment which contributed to me turning the game off. That was the week that my wife's former boss called her and said "is there any way you'd consider a job in Champaign, Illinois?" We took some time thinking about it. She interviewed, got the job offer, and 10 days later (the day of the home Northwestern game that season) is when we made the decision to pull the trigger and make the move. So there was some "will I really leave my job and rely solely on subscriptions for my income?" to my anxiety during that Wisconsin game.
And there was also a little "can I really cover the team on the road with my emotions being as they are during a game?" in there. If I can't handle watching a game at Kohl where fouls are 11-4 in the first half, am I really going to be able to watch a game at Kohl Center where the fouls are 11-4 in the first half? I had some stuff on my mind in January of 2020.
26 months later, I'm covering my first Illini NCAA game tomorrow. I didn't get a credential last year (there were only five per team due to Covid), so I attended both games in the stands. Made a lot of noise during the Drexel game. Sat in stunned silence during the Loyola game.
Now I'm going to have to pull off my greatest trick yet: sitting quietly in press row while watching a do-or-die Illini game. No pacing, no sound whatsoever - just sit and watch. Honestly, it makes me want to skip the game and just check the score after.
OK, no, not really, but those are my emotions tonight. I want to hit fast forward. If you offered me a pill where I'd sleep for the next 72 hours and then I'd wake up on Sunday night and check the Illinois score on Friday and Sunday, I feel like I'd take it. I know that sounds stupid, but these "So, How We Doin'?" posts are all about writing down the thoughts in my brain (with no editing) and that's the thought in my brain. There's just so, so much riding on these two games. My main emotion tonight is "let's just get to this game, please". The clock is going to be so slow tomorrow. Even slower on Saturday if we win tomorrow.
I know, I know - "enjoy the ride" and whatnot. I will. I'm not going to skip the game or something. I'll be invested in every single moment until we're out of the Tournament.
But I can't be the only one with this feeling. I can't be the only one nervous one minute and then massively confident the next. I walk out to the open practice today and I see Jacob Grandison hit a three on one end and then watch a Kofi dunk drill on the other end and I'm immediately "Illini by 60." And then I walk past the big bracket in the media room and picture what it would be like to walk past that on my way out with "Chattanooga" on the next line and I can barely breathe. There's just so much at stake.
This game? For whatever reason I'm confident about this game. I think Kofi will get his 25 & 12 and I think we'll get one of the following three:
- Plummer 6-9 from three game.
- Trent takeover game.
- Belo Back game.
That's my formula for getting to the Elite Eight. Kofi gets his 25 & 12 in all three games and then in one game it's Plummer, one game it's Trent, and one game it's Belo. Get consistent play everywhere else from a hopefully healthy Grandison, a resurgent Hawkins, and a consistent Da'Monte, and there's your team that makes a run.
I think I'll just get to the prediction and go to bed before I let my emotions take over. I feel good about this one, and I'm ready for a "wow, Illinois has put it together" narrative after tomorrow. Let's do this.
Illinois 81, Chattanooga 65