Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a Big Ten basketball team

By Thomas Polcyn, Illini hoops columnist

Looking back at the history of Big Ten hoops, Illinois and Indiana have always been fixtures at the top of the conference.

Indiana has won five national championships, while making eight Final Four appearances and is one of the winningest programs in NCAA history. Illinois doesn’t have any official national championships in basketball, but five Final Four appearances and a few pre-tournament championships is certainly not too shabby.

The successful history of these two teams goes as far as AP ranking them as the 6th (Indiana) and 11th (Illinois) best programs of all-time.

Unfortunately, the teams have not enjoyed as much success in recent years, and despite their rich histories, are on the rebuild. Both teams have first-year coaches, rely heavily on young talent and are having their ups and downs so far this season.

Indiana has enjoyed a little more success so far under new coach Archie Miller, with big wins over Iowa, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Northwestern and almost taking down Duke. Junior forward Juwan Morgan is having a huge year, averaging just over 15 points per game, while also collecting 7.4 boards per game as well. Aside from Morgan, veteran guard Robert Johnson has been a strong contributor himself, with nearly 14 points per game and four rebounds per game.

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    Illinois, on the other hand, has been a bit of a different story. Despite fighting hard and being in just about every game, they have not found the formula to finish it off yet, losing three Big Ten games in overtime, and another on a buzzer-beater. While it would be easy to call the Illini unlucky, a lot of it has been self-inflicted and completely avoidable, minus a few mistakes. That’s the current difference between an Illinois team that is at the bottom of the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers, who are trending upwards and enjoying much more success at the start of their rebuild.

    This contest will more than likely come down to who can play a cleaner game. Indiana has gotten by so far with a mix of experience and some young talent, but with two clear veterans leading the way. Illinois has been a bit on the other side of that spectrum, and with inconsistency from guys like Michael Finke, Aaron Jordan and Mark Alstork, has forced a lot of the younger guys into bigger roles than the typical freshman. There’s no denying that both teams have the coaching and the talent to win a lot of games, but with so much inexperience and inconsistency, it makes it tough to win a lot of games in the Big Ten.

    With both teams undeniably on the rebuild, this game won’t have the appeal it may have just a few years ago when both teams were consistently in the top-25, but at the same time, it seems like it could be the start of another empire. The coaches are there, the talent is there, and the history is certainly in place to reignite both of these teams and watch them on their journey back to the top of the conference. Trent Frazier, Mark Smith, Devonte Green and the rest of the talented young players are here to stay, and sooner rather than later, they will be the faces bringing these programs back to what they once were.

    Building an elite program takes time, and while they may not be there yet, both of these teams have laid strong foundations.


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