Disappointing, to be sure. No offense over the final eight minutes. Horrible free throw shooting. Poor decision making. After 32 minutes of excellent basketball, the Illini played a pathetic final 8, and allowed Virginia Tech to erase a 13 point lead, and win by two, 54-52.
0. That's how many points the Illini scored over the final 4:20. No field goals. No free throws. No nothing. With roughly eight minutes to go, and trailing by double digits, Va Tech went to a full court press. The Illini actually handled it pretty well, but once they got the ball into the front court, they played they all had brain slugs attached to their heads, making poor decision after poor decision, bad pass after bad pass, turnover after turnover. It was painful to watch, but Illini basketball has been painful to watch most of the season.
So that's it. Numerous injuries, two DUIs, one major car accident, and 23 wins, all finally, mercifully, at an end. This was, without a doubt, the toughest season to live through since 1998-1999. The difference then was that everyone knew the Illini were going to be awful, and Frank Williams, Brian Cook, and Marcus Griffin were all set to join the team the next season.
Where do the Illini go from here? They have to hope the Demetri McCamey and Quinton Watkins (assuming he officially commits), are the real deal and can contribute to the offense next season. Sean Pruitt will be the main scoring threat, but the question has got to be 'where will the help come from'? They lose both Rich McBride and Warren Carter, who were their only reliable scorers, and I'm using a loose definition of reliable. Can Brian Carlwell recover and provide support in the post? Can Trent Meacham be a more reliable shooter? Will Jamar Smith even return to the team? And after a season of illness and injury, what can Richard Semrau bring to the team? And if healthy, will Brian Randle finally live up to the potential that so many see in him?
The upside is probably another mid to low seed in the NCAA tournament. I would imagine that they'll be projected as an NIT team next year, probably seventh in the conference. That's just a hunch based on little to no analysis, so take that with a gigantic grain of salt. There are a lot of question marks. But the off-season is a time for healing, and the Illini have a lot of healing to do.