So is it just me, or is there less preseason hype in this conference than usual? I read a lot of Big Ten internet content, and the number of fan bases who’ve gotten into flame wars with each other is way down compared to years past.
Maybe that’s because we’re becoming a kinder, gentler nation. Or maybe it’s because we’re becoming a nation full of lazy, apathetic millennials who don’t care about sports. I’m not sure either of those is true. I think it’s just a matter of which programs are supposed to be good, which ones have open questions, and how much respect or lack thereof they’re receiving.
Let’s dive in.
The national media is doing a good job of hyping Michigan State. There’s no need for Spartans fans to come beat their chest about how The Great Izzo is getting no respect, because most publications have them as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Every single Big Ten preview I’ve seen has the Spartans as the clear favorite in the league. At this point I think our friends in green and white are more worried about jinxing themselves than coming in and hyping up their guys even more.
Maryland is talented, but they have Cowan and Turge. In theory, our lacrosse-playing, crab-eating friends should be talking up their Terps as a legitimate threat to Michigan State. But Maryland fans have been burned one time to many by disappointing performances from their head coach and a point guard who failed to improve from the prior year. Anytime I’ve seen a Maryland fan get chirpy, someone else comes along and says, “Yeah but don’t forget you have Turgeon as your coach” and the Maryland fan sighs and says, “Yeah I know. Maybe this time we won’t collapse in March.”
Indiana doesn’t have a coach on the hot seat, nor do they have a freshman considered to be Basketball Jesus, nor are they favorites to win the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are pretty boring this year. Everybody is in Wait & See mode. There’s hope that Archie is going to end up being pretty good, but not so much hope that people are willing to stake their fragile egos on it. Those who are down on Archie aren’t so down on him that they think he ought to be immediately fired, or at least they know the current AD would never do that.
Purdue fans don’t have as big a chip on their shoulder after last year’s Big Ten title and Elite Eight run, and they don’t have IU hype to antagonize them. Nothing gets a Purdue fan riled like an IU fan claiming the Hoosiers will inevitably be superior to the Boilermakers. IU fans aren’t saying that. They’re saying Purdue will be decent and so will IU, Purdue is probably a little better, but nothing is guaranteed in Assembly Hall. There’s not a whole lot to take exception with there.
The other big in-state rivalry is quiet, too. Michigan fans know that Michigan State will be better this year. They hope Juwan Howard will eventually be a top coach. Michigan State fans know that Michigan fans acknowledge Sparty’s superiority, and they don’t want to run down the Howard hire because there’s the possibility he ends up being really good.
Ohio State fans are still watching football. The Buckeyes should be talking about how they should be the clear favorite for No. 2 in the league, maybe even capable of challenging Michigan State, but when your football team is still in the hunt for a National Championship, you’re perfectly happy to focus on that rather than looking ahead to basketball season.
The Rutgers hype is not yet real. Trust me, if there was a legitimate publication that picked the Scarlet Knights, say, fifth in the Big Ten, Rutgers fans would crawl out of the woodwork to let everyone know that fact. They are starved for a reason to puff out their chests. As it stands, most people have them at 11th or 12th and think they’ll be incrementally better. “Incremental” is not a word that engenders passionate internet debate.
Too many open questions for Wisconsin and Iowa. Midwesterners don’t like to brag on themselves, but they hate it when others put them down. There aren’t enough positives to overcome that reluctance of self-swagger, but nor are there enough negatives for these fans to get on the defensive. Nobody’s picking Iowa or Wisconsin in the bottom four of the league.
Nebraska fans are just nice. Even when their team is bad, they pack the arena and cheer on their boys. And they have a great new coach. And they’re going to be terrible. They have no reason to attack anyone. And unlike some other schools, a shitty football team is a reason to pay even more attention to football, not less.
Minnesota and Penn State are the same thing they seemingly always are. One or two good players, no depth, good enough to beat anyone in the league once, but not good enough to contend.
Northwestern is Northwestern. If you’re counting on Wildcats fans to drive preseason hype and hate, you haven’t been paying attention to the past century or so.
No, there’s only one set of fans that is more hyped for this season than any season in the past decade.
God bless Illinois fans. From 2007 to about 2013, Illinois sites were far and away the most entertaining to visit after a big loss. Meltdown city (now that title belongs to Maryland). Since then, apathy has kind of set in. But no longer! Some publications are picking the Illini as high as fifth in the Big Ten, which may not sound that high, but the Illini haven’t finished that high since 2011. And with football scoring a big upset over Wisconsin, the people in Urbana-Champaign are ready to start dreaming big again.
Illinois also has a potent cocktail of a roster that helps the hype. There’s this guy—
—who is an NBA draft pick that came back to college.
There’s this guy—
—who is pretty much everyone’s favorite personality and a total “program guy”.
And then there’s this guy—
—who is a high-level recruiting win.
There are three types of players who get fans irrationally excited, and Illinois has all three.
So until the season starts and everyone realizes that [whisper] there’s still no evidence Brad Underwood can actually succeed playing his up-tempo style in the Big Ten [/whisper], we’re stuck listening to a bunch of fans in Orange and Blue who are prematurely sipping too much Champaign.
Which is better than nothing, but not much better. But if that’s all we can get, then hey, let me say something that will get Illini fans riled up.
Illinois fans, you do realize that it took you overtime to beat a Vic-lawless Northwestern on Wednesday night in the Big Ten Tournament last year, right? You were terrible last season. You had one good four game stretch. A season is 32+ games. Just because you have reason to believe you’re going to stop being terrible, there’s no reason to think you’ll actually be good. The last time Illinois basketball was actually relevant, George W. Bush was President and Chief Illiniwek was still on your sideline.
It doesn’t matter whether I actually believe that or not, because it’s 100% true either way.
I can’t wait for basketball to start.