At this point, I don’t think anyone really believes all the lip service that NCAA tournament broadcast partners give to metrics, numbers, and statistics when it comes to building the bracket. Sure, things like Quad 1 wins, records against top teams, and NET ranking count, but you know what trumps all of that? Ratings. And you know how you get extra bonuses in the notes? Stories.
Yes, stories are commonplace when the committee builds the bracket, and the 2021-22 Illini Basketball Team has plenty of them present in their bracket region. What defines “narratives”? Well, think back to a few years ago when Pitino the Old and Pitino the Young faced off in the same area, or when they pitted Coach K. against one of his proteges. Illini Basketball is the No. 4 seed in the South Region and will open its NCAA Tournament against No. 13 seed Chattanooga (27-7) in the first round Friday in Pittsburgh; the tip-off is at 5:50 p.m. CT and will be televised on TNT.
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) March 14, 2022
The return of the Mocs
It happened a quarter of a century ago (Now I feel SUPER OLD). Lon Kruger had what was probably the second-best team in the Big Ten that year behind Minnesota’s Final Four team once in a generation (which then saw everything vacated by the NCAA). Illini’s basketball beat No. 11 seed USC as the No. 6 seed very easily in the first round. (Distinctly remember the sight of Kam’s, the freshman bar, during this one). Then came the infamous story of what motivated No. 14-seeded Tennessee-Chattanooga to knock the Illini down in the second round.
The story goes that the thin locker room walls and close proximity to the locker room in the arena allowed the Mocs to hear the Illini basketball team getting very cocky and celebrating before the game even started. All Illinois had to do was beat two double-digit seeds and they would have made it to the Elite 8. The stars aligned and Illinois had a broken bracket which meant it all fell apart. room for Illinois to make a deep run.
UT-Chattanooga players reportedly heard Illini players humming the March Madness TV show theme song and exclaiming “we’re going to the Final Four”.
And they took it personally. Rightly so, as they had just knocked out third seed Georgia in Game 1. As you saw in Illini’s NCAA Basketball Tournament History column, second-round exits are very common in Illini’s basketball history. Still, it stood out as one of the most painful, and it’s reminiscent of what happened with Loyola last year – the Illini believed their own hype, took a mid-major too much to la slight and lost 75-63.
At the time, no one on Illini’s basketball side confirmed the story of what Chattanooga said he heard in the locker room. But as Tommy DeVito (not the Illini QB1, but the Four Seasons member) said at the end of Jersey Boys: ‘eh, yo, godo, you know everyone remembers things the way they want. capeche!
Mr. Phone Man
Kelvin Sampson shouldn’t even be allowed to coach right now, given all the transgressions in his past. He’s right up there, or should I say down there, with Bruce Pearl as the greatest villain of all time in Illini basketball history. (Of course, Illinois was bracketed with Pearl in 2005 and beat them, so again, bracketing = narratives). Sampson led Houston to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament last year, but he still stands out as a slimy bastard in a field that’s full of slimy bastards (like Pearl).
Sampson had no problem bringing in Eric Gordon, Illini’s basketball commitment, and when EG defected from Illinois to the Indiana Hoosiers, things got really ugly. Rookie poaching and player flipping happens all the time, but this situation has become nasty. What really stands out here though – the ruined Eric Gordon/Kelvin Sampson saga with programs, for a long time. Gordon was unique in the NBA, as everyone expected. Illini’s basketball had holes in its backcourt for a few years and problems recruiting top talent for several years to come.
Indiana soon found itself on probation, in 2008, when Sampson totally destroyed the program. Among his offenses were a comedic level of banned phone calls and banned texting. Go check it out, it’s crazy. He was like that swing in “Swingers” when Mikey calls that number he just got at the bar and leaves about 6 or 7 voicemails in a row.
Indiana and Illini basketball hasn’t been back in the Final Four since, and it was painfully obvious then that Gordon wasn’t worth it. And although Sampson is a huge rule breaker, punished by the NCAA, his career persists (as does Pearl). If the chalk holds, it’s Illini basketball against Kelvin Sampson in the second round. Plus, while there’s no bad blood or bitterness between Illini basketball and Arizona, it’s a big intersectional rivalry,
And we have detailed that on this link.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America”, as well as “No I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons From A Lifetime In The Sports Media Industry.”
He has appeared regularly in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Grandstand, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast. follow him to Twitter and Instagram.