It’s the Bucket List — 10 rapid-fire observations on the college basketball season:
1. Did you catch wind of Illinois’ 91-60 pantsing of Rutgers on Tuesday? It’s nice to see the Illini — now 2-8 in Big Ten play — showing any signs of life in Year 1 under Brad Underwood.
Yet the matchup took me back to the single worst defeat of the John Groce era — last year’s regular-season finale at, yes, Rutgers. The Illini had won four straight and were making a last-ditch, but legit, run at an NCAA Tournament bid. Oof. Happy trails, Johnny G.
RELATED STORIES Northwestern — almost out of time — struggles in follow-up act Illini AD ‘couldn’t be more confident’ in struggling Smith, Underwood
But then there’s this: Groce, beleaguered throughout his time in Champaign, a coach never taken all that seriously by his own fan base, squeezed eight league wins out of his fifth and final Illini team. Underwood-adoring fans would faint from delight if this season’s squad won eight.
2. Wisconsin was in first place in the Big Ten when Northwestern went on the road and upset the Badgers last February. The Wildcats return Thursday to face a traditional league power in an unrecognizable 10-13 heap. Nineteen straight NCAA Tournaments, 16 straight top-four finishes in conference — those killer streaks are over and out. Badgers fans should start wrapping their brains around the reality that streaks like that won’t ever be replicated in Madison.
3. Would 10-loss Northwestern win its way back into the Big Dance with an 8-0 finish to the regular season? They might be a long shot even then, according to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm.
“That’s probably still not good enough,” he said, “but when they get to 17-10, ask me again.”
4.Somehow, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo becomes a non-English speaker whenever the subject turns to his program reportedly being part of a culture of cover-ups at the school in regard to sexual assault and other violence against women.
He hems. He haws. He says nothing. Isn’t this one of the most engaging, charismatic story-tellers in the game? There’s being lawyered up, and then there’s being offensively obtuse. Actually, this is both.
5. Still no national champ from the Big Ten since Michigan State in 2000, but the league has produced 10 Final Four teams in the last 13 years. The best program not in that mix? For my money, Purdue.
But this year’s Boilermakers, led by the three-point shooting of Carson Edwards and Dakota Mathias and the unstoppable enormousness of Isaac Haas inside, are good enough that I expect them to change that. The Boilers have an intensity and overall presence reminiscent of Villanova’s title squad from two seasons ago.
6. You know who else has an intensity and overall presence reminiscent of Villanova’s title squad from two seasons ago? Villanova. I’d crawl backward to San Antonio to witness a Final Four matchup of the Boilers and Wildcats. Or at least eagerly watch it on TV.
7. There is talk nationally about a potential Division I rules change that would allow a player whose coach is fired or changes jobs to transfer (though not to the coach’s new school) without having to sit out a year. Can I get an amen?
8. Trae Young, people. The Oklahoma freshman guard, leading the nation in points (30.3) and assists (9.5) per game, has turned the Sooners from a bumbling 11-20 squad a year ago into one of the most dangerous teams in the country. He is quite possibly the closest thing to Steph Curry on this planet. If the Bulls have a chance to get him but take a pass . . . don’t get me started.
9.Notre Dame has come unglued without injured big man Bonzie Colson. As rock-solid as that program is, it merely confirms that Colson remains the most underrated player in college basketball.
10. A year ago, a large number of clueless Illinois fans were beginning to opine in earnest about the school going out and getting Virginia’s Tony Bennett to be its new coach. Virginia is 21-1. Bennett coaches an absolute powerhouse in the best conference in America. Leave there for the Illini? Hilarious.
Follow me on Twitter