COVID-19 Illini basketball

Paper Tigers

Minnesota wasn’t that good. Is anybody?

Illinois proved one thing last night in Minneapolis: You shouldn’t trust anyone’s opinion about college basketball until mid-February at the earliest.

Jacob Grandison guards Eylijah Stephens (GopherSports)

Everyone said Minnesota would suck. Okay, they were right about that. There’s zero reason to analyze Tuesday’s cakewalk.

But everyone said Michigan State would be pretty lousy, too. Okay, they’re probably right about that, as well. It depends on whether Max Christie proves to be the kind of dynamo who can carry an entire team.

Everyone said Michigan would be awesome, and I still can’t figure out why they said that. Especially because “everyone” is a smallish group of wonky sportswriters. I stood among them at B1G Media Days, as we all tried to provoke Hunter Dickinson to say something scurrilous, for cheap thrills. The other player-made-available was Eli Brooks, which should have told you something.

Eli Brooks is fine. But he’s a role player. (pic – Kelsea Ansfield)

The 2022 B1G championship seemed likely to be determined by COVID policy rather than on-court competition. That changed last week, when governance entities both federal & sportsy recognized that vaccines work, that COVID is endemic, and that reality-based people can continue intermingling whether or not they have active coronaviruses living in their nasal passageways.

Just like 2019.

Now that 2019 is back, and a fully vaccinated Illini team has just added 10x natural immunities, the path to a B1G championship looks so easy that you hate & curse yourself for even thinking that it looks easy.

It’s possible that Kur Kuath and Darryl Morsell will be the best defensive duo the Illini face this season.

In truth, this B1G is a lousy B1G. It makes one admire Greg Gard and the entire Wisconsin juggernaut, which seems to have survived (again) rumors of its demise. Johnny Davis and a guy named Chucky Hepburn didn’t attend B1G Media Days, which certainly confused those wonky writers, who were easily fooled into thinking that Brad Davison was the only remaining Badger.

Brad Davison is the last Badger you’ve heard of. You’ll soon hear about the new ones.

This Badger reload should remind everyone that our national recruiting hype-machine depends on networks of communication, and that college coaches will not necessarily tell the Rivals & 247 dudes that they’ve found an unmentioned gem.

247Sports ranked Davis the 28th best Shooting Guard in his class. It will be interesting to see if the NBA draft rates him at a lower number.

Hepburn got a #19 at Point Guard, good for 125th overall in his class. You can imagine that if a guy survives high school while named Chucky Hepburn, he ain’t gonna give two shits about your so-called “stars.”

This picture is not relevant to today’s story. But it was right there, on

Wisconsin’s win at Purdue doesn’t necessarily tell us that the Badgers are a contender. It does tell us that Purdue is not a contender.

That’s likely to be the most interesting story of the ’22 B1G: What happened to Matt Painter?

Trevion Williams has a lot to think about.

Trevion Williams can be purty good at executing offensively, and he’s a coachable player playing for a coach who’s developed a reputation for producing Bigs. The Hype Machine loves Jaden Ivey. Purdue has a reputation as “a program” that instills values and instincts.

So why does it suck so much?

You won’t get an answer. Nobody cares. Outside of Kentland & Waynesboro, Purdue’s failure is a blip on the screen. The Boilermakers are historically the best program in the B1G, but only for conference purposes. Nobody on the national stage is interested in Purdue’s history.

Alan Griffin is gone. But Purdue hasn’t recovered.

Because Illinois won at Iowa in early December, and beat Rutgers handily at home, it’s hard to think of a B1G opponent who poses a threat to the Illini in their quest for a conference championship.

But Izzo is still there. And Wisconsin has somehow remained Wisconsin, a full six years after Bo Ryan stepped aside.

Mark Turgeon is not still there, and that’s the immediate concern. But the remainder of this season should be fun.