Every Illinois fan loves to debate which team was better: the 1988-89 ‘‘Flying Illini’’ of Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, et al., or the 2004-05 squad led by Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head.
Both teams reached the Final Four. Of course, neither was able to bring home a national championship.
Here’s one difference between them that many surely have forgotten about: Twenty-five years before Bruce Weber’s guard-dominated crew ripped through the Big Ten at 15-1 and finished with the Illinois’ best season record at 37-2, Lou Henson’s Flying Illini were runners-up in the Big Ten. As great as that team was, it lost four conference games to Indiana’s three.
But as you watch Illinois’ game Sunday at Indiana, don’t forget to think back to the classic matchup that took place a quarter-century ago in Bloomington. (And if you don’t know about it, be sure to watch it on YouTube.)
The Illini beat the Hoosiers 70-67, with the winning basket coming on a 35-footer by Anderson at the buzzer. Indiana was ranked No. 3 in the country heading into that game; Illinois was ranked No. 8 and rising fast.
Things are just a tad different in 2014. The Illini (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) and Hoosiers (12-7, 2-4) are reeling.
Guard Rayvonte Rice scored 29 points in Illinois’ 83-80 overtime victory against Indiana on New Year’s Eve. It was his high game in an Illini uniform and tied the career high he set as a sophomore at Drake. Rice has slumped since then, bottoming out in a scoreless effort Thursday at Ohio State.
Hoosiers guard Yogi Ferrell scored 30 points in that game. Ferrell has been cold from three-point range of late, but he still is leading all Big Ten players in scoring in conference games at 19.2 points.
Battle of the bigs
Illinois big man Nnanna Egwu had his first good outing in what felt like forever at Ohio State, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds. It was his highest-scoring game in nearly six weeks and matched his second-best rebounding output all season.
‘‘It felt good; it did,’’ Egwu said. ‘‘But quite honestly, I’d rather go 0-for-whatever again and get a win.’’
He’ll need to do better than oh-fer against Indiana center Noah Vonleh for the Illini to have a chance in this game. Vonleh leads the Big Ten in rebounding and is one of the elite freshmen in the country. He had 16 points, nine boards and four blocks in the teams’ earlier meeting. Egwu shot only 3-for-11 and grabbed only two boards against Vonleh and the Hoosiers.