illini basketball

#WeWillWin is a slogan that needs to go on hiatus for awhile. If you haven’t already, you can bury it deep in the closet for a long while, regarding Illini basketball, and even longer for Illini football. Yes, the University of Illinois certainly excels in a myriad of olympic and non-revenue sports- men’s and women’s golf, gymnastics, volleyball, track & field, cross country and wrestling.

However, men’s hoops is traditionally the jewel of the U of I DIA. Illini basketball is and always has been, far and away the banner program of the athletic department. They led the entire nation in total wins from 2002-2006.

Today, 12 years later, is this the worst team in school history? It’s debatable, and over the course of these final five games, we’ll let the final record have the say so.

sad illini basketball fan

To determine “worst team ever” status, we’ll utilize the simplest of metrics- total losses over the course of the season.

As dreadful as things are in Champaign right now, this isn’t totally unprecedented. The Illini basketball program record for single season losses is 19, set in 2007-08 (16-19 overall, 5-13 in the B1G) and tied again in 2015-16 (15-19, 5-13).

Illinois must go 2-3 or better down the stretch here in order to avoid tying this record. The run-in begins Valentine’s night at Indiana, then they host Nebraska on Sunday, at #2 Michigan State next Tuesday, #6 Purdue on Senior Day next Thursday, and then finally ending a very long regular season at Rutgers on Feb 25.

If Brad Underwood’s boys go 1-4 or worse, they will tie or exceed 19 losses. Remember, there will be another inevitable loss via the postseason. Unless Illini basketball run the table at the B1G Tournament and then use the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to win it all in March Madness.

Okay, you can stop laughing now, we’re done with alternative facts section of this piece.

Beyond the school record for single season losses, there is more history on the line for Illinois in these past five games. The last Illini basketball team to not beat at least one ranked team during the course of the season was in 1974-75. It was the one year long Gene Bartow era, and the final campaign before Lou Henson took over the program.

Think about this streak- it’s 45 years and still going strong.

The streak has survived the two 19 loss seasons, as well as a 15 loss season in 2011-12 and an 18 loss season in 1998-99. Illini basketball had at least one victory over a ranked opponent in every year of the Henson era; ditto for Lon Kruger, Bill Self, Bruce Weber and John Groce.

This streak is like the Illini basketball version of the Illini football home opener win streak. Yes, the football team has 20 consecutive home opening wins, the fourth-longest active streak in the nation behind only Florida (27), Oklahoma State (22) and Wisconsin (22); dating all the way back till 1998. 

Yes, both of these Illini revenue sport streaks are like cockroaches, they can survive anything, even a nuclear holocaust.

Barring a somewhat deep B1G Tournament run and the right draw in opponents, Illinois only has two chances left to keep this streak alive, and both are extreme long shots at best. Purdue is fighting for a #1 seed and B1G regular season championship. Losing to the Illini would pretty much wipe out both of those goals. If that’s not motivation enough, these Purdue seniors entered the season having won at least once at every B1G rival’s home arena except Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

They’ve already checked the Wolverines and Hawkeyes off the list; so they’ll be laser focused to win this one in Champaign. As for Michigan State, they have a considerable amount of work to do in order to get a #1 seed, and they’re also in the B1G race with Purdue and Ohio State.

They won’t coast when Illinois comes to the Breslin Center. Also, you saw what the Spartans did to this Illini basketball team in their gym- just think what might happen when Sparty is hosting the party.

So what is the worst Illini basketball team of all time? Even if the current one becomes the first side to lose 20 in a single campaign, there are worse teams out there.

nick anderson illini basketball lou henson

Go back to pre Lou Henson. That ’74-’75 team we referenced earlier was 8-18, 4-14 in the league. Had they been playing 30+ games back then, this group cold have lost 20. Preceding that Gene Bartow team was a unit coached by Harv Schmidt, who went 5-18, 2-12 in the league.

So while the current team might not end up being the worst ever, they could easily be the worst in close to a half-century (1973-74).

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC and Chicago, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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