View from C Section

Sure, Brumby has been silent after the Indiana and Michigan games, but on Thursday night he decided to awake from his coma and discuss the Fighting Illini. What happened to Illinois against Indiana and Michigan? Are things not as bright as they seem in Champaign? Read this latest View from C Section for Brumby's reaction to the last week of Illinois basketball.

First, I want to "apologeye" (good-bye Mr. Sosa, you won't be missed) for not providing a recap of either the Indiana or the Michigan games. I watched both of them, but I have been battling what seems like a winter long cold in the last week that I finally got over some time during the day on Thursday. I guess drinking five to six bottles of orange juice a day can help break colds.

I was not completely out of it when it comes to Illinois sports, I have been reading the boards, and my cell phone has been getting Illini related call and text messages for the last week, but I have yet to be able to opine on what I am seeing. The simple reason I have decided not to is that when you combine the cold with the way I feel about this season, these two games were of little consequence.

Yes, let me repeat that, the games against Indiana and Michigan were of little consequence for Illinois, and thus I have been watching them a little differently than I have watched Illinois games in years past. Were this last year, and Illinois was playing like that, I would have broken another cell phone thanks to sports (Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez, and Dusty Baker are to blame for the previous phone being thrown across a Kansas City parking lot on an evil October night). This year is different though. I can't get upset if Illinois is playing poorly in an inconsequential game.

When Bruce Weber took over the Illini job two summers ago, he circled St. Louis on a map. The thing is though, when Dee, Deron, and James all stepped foot in Champaign, St. Louis was circled on that map long before. Illinois fans knew the 2005 NCAA Tournament led to the best chance Illinois would have since 1989 to reach the Final Four thanks to the venues (Indianapolis and Chicago) and the expected talent level of the Illini.

When this season began, there was no doubt in my mind that anything less than a Final Four birth would be a disappointing season in my eye for this Illinois team. I was told by someone that covers the Illini closer than any one else that those expectations were too high to place on this team. I explained that looking at the pre-season I only saw four teams that I would rate as equal to Illinois (North Carolina, Kansas, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech) and even though "anything can happen" it was Final Four or bust this year. While they did not agree with my characterization of anything less than a Final Four being a disappointment, they did agree Illinois was one of the top five teams in the country.

Now, fast forward to what has happened this season. Twenty four games played. Twenty four Illinois wins. Illinois is the unanimous Number One choice in the polls, and probably would be even with a loss. The Illini have dominating wins over Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Oregon, and Cincinnati. The Illini ended Wisconsin's 38-game home winning streak (a game I will admit I thought Illinois would lose). The Illini defeated Michigan State in the Breslin Center (a game I will admit I thought Illinois would lose). But in the last week things have not been "great" for Illinois, supposedly.

Close games against Michigan and Indiana have people questioning how good Illinois really is. Illinois fans are on edge about "poor" play. Illinois players are being criticized for not shooting the ball well, or not shooting the ball enough. When it all comes down to it, for the first time in my crazy Internet life, I have not been a part of this analysis paralysis. Why? It simply does not matter.

Barring a complete disaster (and by complete disaster I mean losses to Penn State, Northwestern, and Purdue), Illinois will have won the Big Ten for the second straight season and will be the Number One seed in the Chicago regional with a date to play their first and second round games in front of an Illini friendly crowd in Indianapolis' RCA Dome. A loss to Michigan or Indiana would not have changed this fate. A loss to any one will not change this fate.

I now truly know what it feels like to be a fan of a team like Duke. My favorite team is no longer fighting for a seed, they are in control of their seed, and they have nearly locked up a Number One seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is a strange feeling, and one I have never had. This calmness in mid-February is sort of a weird feeling, but one I would love to get used to.

Do I still want to win every game? Yes.

Do I get upset with the ebbs and flows of the game? Not this season.

Do I still scream things like "Dunk the f#@king ball James!"? Yes.

Do I still send sarcastic text messages and joke with my friends that "God We Suck" when a play goes the wrong way? Yes.

Do I realize that none of this matters until March 17th or 18th? Yep.

That is what it has come down to, and a game in February against an Indiana team without Bracey Wright will not tell me anything about where Illinois will end up in March and hopefully April. Just like a game against a Michigan team in Ann Arbor without Daniel Horton will not tell me anything about where Illinois will end up at the end of the season. Just like Illinois will not always play as inspired as they did against Wake Forest and Gonzaga, they will not play as uninspired as they have against Michigan, Indiana, and even Longwood.

All of my eyes are on St. Louis, and if there is a loss along the way, it doesn't matter. I am going to enjoy this ride, and not fall until it's over. Hopefully that fall will not happen until I see Bruce Weber and his team cutting down the nets to the song One Shining Moment. What I do know is that will not be decided until April, and a game in February tells me nothing of how Illinois will be playing come March because I, and every one else already knows how good this team is.

Enjoy the ride. If you want to go up and down with every ebb and flow, go right ahead. But, speaking from experience, it is much more fun to watch this season with the realization that this team is damn good, no matter what you saw on the court in Ann Arbor.

No team has ever won an NCAA Tournament with one loss.

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