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.
Me? I’m all about the Flying Illini. Then again, I’m a 43-year-old who grew up in Chicago and watched all those guys play live in high school. Well, not all, but the Chicago Public Leaguers, for sure — don’t forget about Marcus Liberty — plus Battle, Lowell Hamilton and others. I also was in college at a Big Ten school (Wisconsin) the season Illinois put that intense, extraordinarily exciting run together.
Anyway, as you know, both of the teams in question 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 school’s best-ever season record — 37-2 — Lou Henson’s fliers were runners-up in the Big Ten. As great as that team, was, it lost four league games to Indiana’s three.
Didn’t win the Big Ten? I’m pretty sure I’d forgotten about that myself.
But as you watch Illinois’ game at Indiana on Sunday (2 p.m., BTN), don’t forget to think back on the UI-IU classic that took place in Bloomington a quarter-century ago. (And if you don’t know, this is what I’m taking about.)
Illini 70, Hoosiers 67 — 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 No. 8 and rising fast.
Things are just a tad different in 2014. The Illini (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) and the Hoosiers (12-7, 2-4) are reeling. But let’s not think about that right now.