Monday, March 07, 2005

Suck It Up And Move On

So what? So fuckin' what?

So the Illini lost to Ohio State? Big deal. Get over it. Move on. The inevitable happened. There's nothing to see here.

It was one game, a game that had nothing to do with the Big Ten title the Illini had already wrapped up, a game that won't alter their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, a game on the road against an NCAA-ineligible team that was playing in its self-professed national championship, a game against a Buckeyes team that, lo and behold, isn't bad at all.

Shit happens. Oh, well.

Do you know all of those people who have been clamoring for an Illini loss for months now, somehow believing that losses are a good thing? Well, I hope they're happy. I hope they all sat back and let out big sighs of relief, content with the satisfaction that comes from no longer having to worry about shooting for perfection or history or the stars. Maybe this will make their enjoyment of this Illini team easier. These people were convinced that falling from the perch of greatness was somehow necessary to be great. Huh?

Dee Brown and Luther Head and Deron Williams and the rest of the Illini never believed this nonsense. Early in the season they sensed that a run towards immortality was attainable, and they got closer to that immortality than anyone could have predicted or expected. Good for them. The looks of utter shock and sorrow on their faces after their first loss suggested that they believed immortality was well within reach, that they were shooting for it despite all the lip service they gave to taking things one game at a time and all that. Yet some will say this loss is a good thing, that lessons were learned, that weaknesses were exposed and therefore fixable.

Really? What lessons were learned?

We already knew that the Illini are driven by their guard play, and that one game of poor shooting from Brown, Head and Williams could be fatal. And that's what happened against Ohio St. Williams was limited to a mere two points, Brown had just two points after halftime, and Head was largely ineffective. The Illini's outside shooting has been so great, particularly Brown of late, that you could sense them becoming dependent on it. Against the Buckeyes they continually settled for outside shots without getting the ball inside first, they couldn't hit a shot down the stretch, and the Buckeyes, their fans going crazy, got hot. End of story. So what lesson was learned?

We already knew that the Illini were susceptible to teams with dominant big men, and the Buckeyes Terence Dials, who the Illini had no answer for much of the day, proved that. For the Illini to be truly great, the inside players - James Augustine, Roger Powell, Jack Ingram, and Nick Smith - must be bigger factors on both ends of the court. They can't always defer to the guards to make things right. But, again, we already knew this.

We already knew that on any given day any team can fall, as was evidenced by the losses of Kansas and Kentucky yesterday.

So, really, there were no lessons learned. There were no weaknesses exposed. There were no new discoveries to chew on. All we know now is what we knew all along - that neither the Illini, nor any team in the land, is so good that they can't be knocked off on a day they don't play well. This is the oldest lesson in the book.

Of course, now we'll have the distinct (dis)pleasure of listening to all of the talking heads and self-proclaimed experts who will spend the next few days discussing the ramifications of one near-miss loss as if world peace depended on it. They will question the damage to the Illini psyche, and if they can recover. They will call the loss alarming and damaging. They will say the loss will remove the Illini’s much needed aura of invincibility.

Spare me. It’s a loss. Nothing more, nothing less. Get over it.

Sure, right now the distance between 29-1 and 30-0 seems greater than the distance between good John Travolta movies, but the ramifications of the loss are minimal. If the Illini's ultimate goal, a national championship, is attained, nobody will remember a largely meaningless one-point loss to Ohio State on sad day in early March. It will only be an unfortunate footnote in a season of unmatched joy.

Would 39-0 have been amazing? Sure, but 38-1(with only a one-point blemish along the way) would surely secure the Illini a spot among the all-time great teams. Few teams have ever been so dominant for an entire season, undefeated or not.

There are no words Bruce Weber can conjure up to ease the pain and disappointment his players are surely feeling now. Nor should there be. There is no need to for sweet talk, nor condolences, nor assurances that everything will be alright. Most importantly, there is no need for regret.

There is no need for anything other than to forget Sunday's heartbreak and focus on the road ahead. The ultimate goal remains the same. Nothing has changed. There is no need to do anything but get back to work.

Yesterday was a tough, tough loss, but all is not lost. Far from it.

And if any lesson was learned, this must surely be it.


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