Like a true masochist, I’m back in front of the television for another chapter in the “Season on the Stink.” The Season on the Brink was the John Feinstein book about Coach Bob Knight and the 1985-86 I.U. basketball team that lost to Cleveland State in the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 21-8 record. The 2019-2020 version of the team has played some really bad basketball but could still get to that respectable 20-win mark. They’ve been particularly bad on the road, with a trip to Illinois today. Fortunately, my wife and Tally are not here to witness the frustration that is sure to overcome me. Tally will not have to cower in fear as I scream about turnovers, missed lay-ups, poor free throw shooting, and off-balance bricks. I’ve already documented about how much they “stink” this year. (See Post #1237).
It’s been a build-up of tension that began with the dismissal of Coach Bobby Knight 20-years ago. Twenty seems to be the magic number in this sequence of events that began in 2000. It wasn’t until 2020 that he returned to the court. Twenty regular season wins this year would be remarkable considering double losses to a mediocre Purdue team that foiled Knight’s big day. Instead, it was arch-rival Gene Keady that left with a smile on both occasions. There are three games left to get two victories, but today’s game at Illinois is the biggest opportunity to return to tournament glory. The team lacks confidence in a hostile environment, so “winning ugly” is their only chance. Otherwise, it will be another blowout loss, adding to the stink that already prevails.
The Illini are 13-3 at home this year, so our chances are slim. In fact, IU only has 33% chance for victory, while it’s closer to 90% that the visiting Hoosiers will stink up the place and retired Chief Illiniwek will dance on their tournament grave. I’ve sat in only five different BIG venues in my lifetime, including I.U., Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois. Illinois is by far the most hostile, with memories of Eric Gordon’s rude reception after flipping his commitment across the border. He thrived on the controversy and it will take a similar performance from someone like senior Devonte Green to keep us in the ballgame. We can only hope.
it was the most consistent half of basketball that the Hoosiers have played all year. I kept waiting for the wheels to fall off – but they never did! Does this mean that it will all catch up with us the second half? Can struggling coach Archie Miller lead his team to a strong first five minutes out of the locker room, or will they come out flat like they did in West Lafayette a few days ago? Then came the 7-0 Illini run, but IU countered with threes and got to 50 first. The race to get to the key 60-point milestone would determine the winner. Unfortunately, back-to-back turnovers destroyed any chance for Hoosier momentum, failing miserably to get us there first, while giving up one of our devastating 9-0 trademark runs. It was all seven feet of Kofi Cockburn down the stretch, as Trayce Jackson-Davis faded in comparison. Indiana played well and hit back-to-back threes before the broadcast signal went out and the screen turned to black. I had to quickly switch to my phone to watch the final :30 seconds. It came down to free throws and Indiana missing their first two of the game, as Trayce blew the chance to tie. From what I could see on the small screen, IU guard Rob Phinisee somehow muscled-away the rebound but slipped in the process, and Chief Illiniwek & Company put the game away at the charity stripe 67-66.
The only thing that “stunk” today was the outcome, although it was a valiant effort. Indiana has lost heartbreaking one-point games to both highly-ranked Maryland and Illinois, while nipping non-conference foe Notre Dame by a bucket earlier in the year. The other games haven’t really been competitive win or lose, while they are certainly overdue for a last second break. It’s tough to be both bad and unlucky in the same season. Also, TJ-D not only missed the clutch free throws, but also the head-to-head battle with Kofi for BIG Freshman of the Year. Will he come back another year? More importantly, will team fate change as they go into tournament play or does The Chief come back to haunt us on Selection Sunday?