Bye Week Mailbag II

Oct 14, 2021

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I love that photo right there. Just Kofi with an ILL sign during a football game where we gained 93 total yards, single-handedly lifting up the homecoming crowd with a sign that, to all of us, said "don't worry - I've got you."

So in honor of that moment, let's make this second bye week mailbag a bunch of basketball questions.

Comp to 05-06 team…lose mega star (Deron/Ayo) still compete with remaining mega star (Dee/Kofi)


My first reaction here is "that comp doesn't work for me" but let's see...

04/05 to 05/06 - Deron Williams declared for the draft, Luther Head, Roger Powell, Nick Smith, and Jack Ingram graduated.
20/21 to 21/22 - Ayo Dosunmu declared for the draft, Giorgi Bezhanishvili turned professional, Adam Miller transferred to LSU, Jermaine Hamlin transferred to Eastern Illinois.

That's not as far off as I thought with my gut reaction. My initial reaction was to losing three of the top five players in 2005 (Deron, Luther, and Roger), but losing Ayo, Adam Miller, and Giorgi is losing three of the top eight players in the 2021 rotation. But let's see where they break down on the "leading scorers" list.

The 2006 team lost Luther (#1 scorer), Deron (#3), Roger (#4), Jack Ingram (#6), and Nick Smith (#7) out of the top seven scorers. The 2021 team loses Ayo (#1), Adam (#5), and Giorgi (#7). So yeah, this is why my gut initially balked at the comp. There's a lot more returning on this team.

And to add some preseason statistics to that, the 2005-06 team was #17 preseason. We climbed to as high as #6 in the polls by the first of the year, but ended up 11-5 in the Big Ten with a 4-seed in the Tournament where we beat Air Force and then lost to Washington.

So while I like the structure of the comp (Ayo/Deron gone, Kofi/Dee return), I think this team brings back much more than that team. That team lost five of the top seven scorers; this team lost three of the top seven scorers. I can see "Dee-Augie = Belo-Kofi", but this supporting cast should be much better than that supporting cast.

This is good news, yes?

In today's world we are very much polarized on views. Social media has probably driven some of this. nameless Michigan player comes out and says he dislikes ILL (fans). It spreads rapidly on Twitter boards, etc.

Does this drive more intense rivalries, or just different from 25 years ago. I mean I remember back in 94 my freshman year going to the game singing the Michigan fight song with slightly modified lyrics that should not be repeated for the easily offended.


I have a lot of thoughts here. Those thoughts go in many different directions so I'll try to stay focused here.

First off, rivalries 25 years-ago vs. rivalries today. I'm not sure my 2021 "man, Michigan fans are so smug" is all that different from my 1996 "man, Michigan fans are so smug". It's more, I don't know, "readily available" with social media, but as far as my feelings walking into a game hoping that I'm not seated near any Michigan fans, I'm not sure it's changed all that much. My ranking of "fanbases that annoy me" changes from year-to-year (even 2011-me would be shocked at how little time I spend thinking about Wisconsin basketball fans in 2021), but "intense rivalries" feel more-or-less the same as they did 25 years ago.

The big difference, at least to me, is my "knowledge" of the Illinois fanbase. That's not the right way to say that. In 1996, it was "Michigan fans are so annoying - just deal with the fact that the Fab Five cheated, OK?". In 2021, it's "Michigan fans are so annoying, but so many voices in our fanbase can't help but step on every possible rake in their attempt to chirp back". Maybe that's just a function of social media (I mean, I know that it's a function of social media) - I'm just saying that I wish our fanbase was better at this.

When message boards came online in 1997, the first place I dipped my toe was the Big Ten Fan Forums. You could immediately interact with every Big Ten fanbase. The most heated debates there: Illinois and Iowa fans (still boiling after the Bruce Pearl fiasco). It got ugly at times.

But those debates were Lincoln/Douglas compared to what we see on Twitter in 2021. I realize that a lot of that is the polarization that you mentioned, but still, I cannot believe the boldness of our fans. Just feels like we've completely lost the plot.

What plot?

+ We lost to Michigan in the semifinals in 1989. It is the trump card they hold in every debate, and we must keep our eye on it. It's impossible to get around it. They beat us in the Final Four and won the title. We've still never won a title. We are forever under that thumb until we win one.

+ The main card to play after 1989 is introduced is "Ed Martin". He erased two decades of Michigan success. When Maurice Taylor flipped "his" Ford Explorer in 1996 with Mateen Cleaves and other recruits inside, returning from a party at Ed Martin's house where the recruits were supplied with strippers, money, and booze, it took away an entire decade of Michigan basketball.

From just one accident, the Fab Five records were erased (the NCAA found that Martin had paid the Fab Five players), Cleaves went to MSU (starting their dynasty), and Michigan had to vacate nearly everything that happened from 1992 to 1999. Four banners came down: 1992 Final Four, 1993 Final Four, 1997 NIT title, and 1998 Big Ten Tournament title. Michigan's lawyers were really only able to keep one thing away from the NCAA: the connection between Ed Martin and Terry Mills. Had that been proven, the 1989 National Title banner would have come down as well.

But the scandal didn't just erase the 1990's. Michigan was in the Tournament in 1998, but they had to vacate that Tournament appearance after the sanctions came down. Their next Tournament appearance? 2009. Not one single NCAA Tournament appearance from 1998 to 2009, and when we factor in the vacation of the 1998 appearance, not one NCAA Tournament appearance from 1996 to 2009 (!!!).

+ After that, and this is very important, we switched places. While Michigan was mired in the Ed Martin scandal (1998 through 2003 and then the fallout over the next five seasons), we were basically one of the five best college basketball programs. Then, right around the time it all fell apart for us, Michigan returned under John Beilein.

So the history goes like this:

  • In the 1980's, the Illini were the much better program. Which is why Michigan winning a title in 1989 was so impossible to swallow.
  • In the 1990's, Bruce Pearl destroyed the Illini program. Michigan was in multiple title games and dancing on our grave... until Mo Taylor flipped that car with drunk recruits inside. The NCAA got out their eraser and scrubbed most of an entire decade.
  • Michigan 2000-2010 = Illinois 2010-2020
  • Illinois 2000-2010 = Michigan 2010-2020

Now, finally, despite what Hunter Dickinson wants to tell you, both programs are "powerhouses in the Big Ten". He isn't aware of Illinois Basketball going to 21 of 25 NCAA Tournaments from 1983 to 2007 while Michigan went 13 seasons from 1997 to 2009 without a single Tournament appearance. He was nine years old when the programs switched places in 2009, so I can't really blame him for his "why do Illinois fans think they're some kind of dynasty?" stance.

The historical stats, in case he wants to know:

  • Appearances in final AP poll: Illinois 28, Michigan 23
  • Regular season Big Ten titles: Illinois 17, Michigan 15
  • BTT titles: Illinois 3, Michigan 3
  • NCAA Tournament appearances: Illinois 31, Michigan 30
  • Final Fours: Michigan 6, Illinois 5

One more stat...

  • National titles: Michigan 1, Illinois 0.

It's never not in my mind when having a "discussion" with a Michigan fan. A single game has put them above us until we finally break through. Perhaps the best way to say that:

I believe Illinois basketball holds the title of "best team to never win it all". Hunter Dickinson doesn't understand our history so he doesn't know why the word "best" is in there. Illinois fans don't seem to understand the humility required by the word "never" being in there.

Which preseason NCAABB polls are actually data-driven, and which ones are to generate emotional responses.


I mean, I don't think any are specifically assembled to simply generate emotional responses. Unless it's some Iowa blog putting Illinois 9th in the Big Ten this season. The national preseason polls on certain websites might have some #takes in there (some writer wants to really emphasize the point that they're not convinced that UCLA's NCAA Tournament run erases their poor regular season, so they put UCLA 19th in their poll), but once the AP polls arrive (next week, I think?), writers have to own their rankings in public and I don't think you see much "emotional response generation".

I find the most emotional responses are generated by bad data-driven polls, to be honest. I'll occasionally flip through some of the individual rankings used to assemble the Massey Ratings and, well, here's how the Sonny Moore Power Ratings see the Big Ten this coming season (list was published last Friday). I'll just rank the Big Ten teams and then include the preseason national ranking for each team:

1. Purdue (1)
2. Ohio State (11)
3. Michigan State (26)
4. Michigan (27)
5. Iowa (29)
6. Penn State (30)
7. Northwestern (33)
8. Indiana (35)
9. Rutgers (37)
10. Wisconsin (44)
11. Maryland (46)
12. Illinois (57)
13. Nebraska (72)
14. Minnesota (226)

I mean, I'm having an emotional response. How about you?

It's funny. The Massey Ratings only have two preseason rankings in there so far. One has Illinois 57th. The other has Illinois 4th. Something something standard deviation.

For me, I check T-Rank and KenPom for preseason NERDstats and then I've always appreciated Matt Norlander's preseason rankings (which came out today). You might remember me tweeting this last year...

Ever since Norlander nailed that, I've followed his preseason rankings. He then had us 4th last season, the highest of any of the preseason rankings, and we ended up with a one-seed. So what's his top ten this year?

1. Gonzaga
2. Purdue
3. Villanova
4. Kansas
5. Michigan
7. Illinois
8. Memphis
9. Alabama
10. Texas

Emotional response away.


djchi on October 14, 2021 @ 07:22 PM

I think the flipping of the Bronco is one of the all time great sports what-ifs.

Douglascountyillinifan on October 15, 2021 @ 09:58 AM

one small correction...UM=Explorer OJ=Bronco. :-)

rfowler on October 15, 2021 @ 11:04 AM

It would be worth mentioning how the car crash of 2007 affected our Men's Basketball Program. Jamar Smith dismissed from the program and Brian Carlwell - well who knows what happened to him.

djchi on October 15, 2021 @ 11:37 AM

Carlwell went on to play a contributing role on a couple good San Diego State teams.

Bear8287 on October 15, 2021 @ 05:16 PM

One more Illini Michigan stat:
All-Time Series: Illinois leads 90-85

purcy51 on October 15, 2021 @ 06:37 PM

Hunter Dickinson needs to read this.

purcy51 on October 15, 2021 @ 06:37 PM

Hunter Dickinson needs to read this.

Efrem on October 16, 2021 @ 08:28 AM

Being 7th in that top ten doesn't bug me. I don't think most of those doing rankings look to deep. They see Ayo leaving and his impact on closing out wins and boom. That's why we're not higher

IBFan on October 16, 2021 @ 07:28 PM

It doesn’t mean anything, shouldn’t bother anyone.

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