Brad Underwood and Illinois Basketball wins 20 again; clinching their fourth straight 20 win season.
To open the March schedule, Illinois played an absolute titanic game against the Michigan Wolverines. Luckily for the Illini, they were able to inch out a close double-overtime victory. Brad Underwood and Illinois have had their ups and downs this season, as they continue to alternate between a win and a loss. However, it cannot be understated that this victory clinches Brad Underwood’s fourth straight 20 win season and winning record in conference play.
Brad Underwood clinched his fourth straight 20 win season at Illinois, 55-23 (70.5% win percentage) in regular conference play in those 4 years pic.twitter.com/GwRq83hm8q
— Armchair Illinois (@ArmchairIllini) March 3, 2023
The above phrase was a buzzword when Josh Whitman transitioned from Lovie Smith to Bret Bielema. As putrid as the Lovie Smith era was, he had these random flashes in a pan: The win against number 6 Wisconsin, overcoming a 28-3 deficit to beat Michigan State, landing some headline recruits. However, all respectable athletic programs strive towards consistency. Consistency that is so robust that winning 20 games or making the NCAA tournament becomes an expectation. I wrote earlier in the year that Brad Underwood has gotten Illinois back to a place where landing a top 100 prospect was not news to anyone. Brad Underwood has reached that level of sustained success.
In the previous eras of Illinois Basketball, head coaches have struggled to establish themselves in the top of the conference. John Groce always had solid non-conference records, however his conference record was 37-53 (41.1%) in five seasons. Groce never went above .500 in conference play. Additionally, he suffered numerous 15+ point losses consistently. If you remove the first two years of the Bruce Weber era, he went 61-61 (50.0%). Weber’s era had some solid conference play years, however he would occasionally go 5-13 or 6-12.
The Monkey on Underwood’s back
Brad Underwood has done admirably during the regular season, however the monkey on his back remains. Underwood has never made a sweet 16 in his 6 trips to the NCAA tournament. With his third straight trip as the Illinois coach, you have to hope that this is the year. The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Unfortunately, the Illini have gotten the worst possible matchups the last two years. Additionally, health really limited Illinois last year. Jacob Grandison was playing on one arm, Trent Frazier’s eye was swollen which prevented his vision and they subsequently ran out of gas.
Illinois hopes to have their starting PG Jayden Epps back in time healthy enough for a postseason push. Additionally, they have to hope that none of their other plays are too banged up given that Illinois is not very deep right now. Despite all of this, I think it is safe to say that the Brad Underwood hire has been successful. He also has a talented group of freshmen coming in next year to build on this years talented bunch. Overall, despite some painful losses thrown in, Brad Underwood has brought sustained success. 20 wins with the chance to add on more is something that Illinois fans dreamed of the past decade. Now, it seems like another everyday expectation.
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