IlliniDog Says Goodbye to the Off-Season

It's just a few days from the start of games, and if you follow college basketball in the off-season, you know what a relief it is to get away from the hits & misses of recruiting, the misdeeds, misfortune, and sometimes seedy investigations that make up the summer months.

First, I can't help but wonder how Bruce and the staff are feeling about the summer recruiting. With Carlwell and Semrau in the bank, and many solid guards uncommitted, recruiting seemed to be off to a tremendous start. As John Stewart would say, "Then, not so much." Collins to KU midnight madness. Ouch. Days later, the piece that would have made this an elite haul on the national scene was now missing. A kid who seemed predisposed to the Illini, and a perfect fit, defied logic, joined a crowd of KU guards, and made a decision which even by his own description had almost nothing to do with rational thinking. The usual harsh words about losing a recruit were worse than usual. Can there be any doubt that this Halloween the scariest costume to an Illini fan will be Bill Self? It would be a gross overstatement to say the wheels fell off, but I have to believe that Bruce is learning some painful lessons. He's clearly a man of his word, but unfortunately in the world of high-major college recruiting, he's going to encounter his share of people who are not straight with him, appreciate his honesty, or feel the need to honor what they've said. Is Bruce taking a second look at his personal style? Is he tweaking how he handles recruiting to handle the unpredictability? I tend to think he is still adapting to the level of competition for the recruits he's going after, but maybe not. His philosophy on recruiting may already be defined and he's come to terms with the challenges and unpredictable nature of it. Fortunately there is no need to panic as he put in place a good contingency plan for the PG spot with Chester and Trent. The early news on Chester in particular has been encouraging. Still, it may be a while before some fans move on and stop worrying about what could have been.

Second, what's up with all the rankings? Am I just now noticing how overboard it's gotten? Doyel not only has ranked the teams, he's even ranked the conferences. I can't wait to see what other analysis he can do on games that haven't been played! Why not start arguing about what teams deserve to get at-large bids to the tourney while he's at it? In one sense, I like getting perspective on the upcoming season, but part of me hates the process the media goes through anointing teams who haven't earned anything. As a fan, I'd rather see a list of games to watch in the early season over a list of teams that have been chosen by the so-called experts. I can live with college basketball being a big revenue sport, though, and the media feeding off it. It beats the alternative.

Finally, I'm a little sad at the start of the season because I know I have to let go, if only a little, of the memory of last season. 37-2. Warms my heart. Deron, Luther, Dee, Jack, The Reverend, Auggie. A mere six point deficit for the entire season. The best team in America for all but the last few seconds. A final four banner we've waited a long time for. A team people talked about. Winning the league and the league tournament seem barely worth mentioning. I hate to give that up and start with a new edition of the Illini. I liked blowing out teams and wondering when Bruce would call off the assault. I liked seeing articles on how we had the best guards in America. Heck, I even liked the polls. Go ahead, rank us #1 again. I just didn't have a problem with it.

Now, we're going to fight for our lives in the Big Ten, and might find stretches where wins are hard to come by. We might have to be satisfied watching talent develop instead of seeing it at it's pinnacle. We might have to be real fans and support our team when it's down, or experience that frustrated feeling as we leave the stadium wondering why we lost. The early non-conference schedule probably won't tell us much about how good we are, but it will answer some questions, like it or not.

Are you ready?


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