Illini AD ‘couldn’t be more confident’ in struggling Lovie Smith, Brad Underwood
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Forty-seven weeks. That’s how long Illinois fans waited between Big Ten victories by their football and basketball teams.
On March 1, 2017, the Illini hoops squad knocked off Michigan State in Champaign. On Wednesday, the Illini outlasted Indiana there by a score of 73-71.
In between, Lovie Smith’s second Illini football team went a miserable 0-9 in conference play last season. Brad Underwood’s first basketball team started 0-8 in the Big Ten this season. Oh, and first-year women’s coach Nancy Fahey is off to an 0-8 Big Ten start, too.
All three coaches were hired by athletic director Josh Whitman, a former Illini tight end who had a brief NFL playing career. Fans throughout Illini Nation remain high on Whitman and his ‘‘#WeWillWin’’ slogan, but everyone eventually needs to, you know, win.
‘‘Sure, the competitor in me lives and dies with every throw, every kick, every shot,’’ he said. ‘‘But at the end of the day, this isn’t about me.’’
I joked on Twitter than the victory against Indiana was great and all, but weren’t the Illini supposed to be tanking for the No. 1 draft pick? It was met with what I have found to be a common overconfidence from Illini hoops fans, many of whom are convinced — based on what, I can’t fathom — that the program will climb the conference ranks in no time.
‘‘They already have the No. 1 pick,’’ @tommydisanto wrote. ‘‘The best point guard in the country is coming next year, [Morgan Park’s] Ayo Dosunmu.’’
‘‘I expect next year’s team to compete for the NCAA tourney and likely make it,’’ @KyleGarmes wrote. ‘‘Add a transfer big guy, and I feel even better.’’
Isn’t that a tad unrealistic?
‘‘I don’t think so,’’ Whitman said. ‘‘I love the passion that our fans have for this athletic program, and I will never do anything to diminish their enthusiasm or suggest they temper their hopes and dreams for Illini athletics.’’
Does Whitman still think he nailed his signature hires, Smith and Underwood?
‘‘I could not be more confident in our two guys,’’ he said.
My take? I’d bet against the Illini making the Big Dance next season, but basketball is a lot more promising than football. Two seasons in, Smith has beaten Rutgers and Michigan State — both in 2016 — and those patsies finished a combined 1-17 in conference play that season. Year 3 easily could be another last-place proposition in the Big Ten West.
And now, a handful of Your Turn questions:
We’re not talking about this anymore. Besides, you shouldn’t ask about the ceiling when you can still feel the floor under your tuchus.
Our Adam Jahns and Mark Potash are saying 9-7 and 8-8, respectively, but try to hold them to it and they’ll deny it. Lots could change between now and then.
“It’s way too early to make predictions,” according to Jahns. “But the right moves in free agency and then the draft helped turn the Rams and Eagles into winners this season with second-year quarterbacks in charge. The Bears will be compared to them.”
When he was going well last season, Edwards was not shy about making it known that he wants — intends — to be a big-league closer. But his struggles toward the end of the 2017 campaign undoubtedly slowed his roll on that front. Forget the “next year” thing for now. For Edwards, 2018 needs to be about locking down any late-inning role at all.
Is it time to acknowledge that this year’s NHL Western Conference may belong to the Jets, Predators or Golden Knights? —Albert, via Facebook
No. The time to do that was weeks ago. There probably are a few other teams with realistic chances to come out of the West, but the Blackhawks — even if by some mathematical miracle they do make the playoffs — aren’t one of them.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.