With a loss to the Houston Cougars on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Illinois Men's Basketball season came to a close in disappointing fashion.

This Illinois team was a trendy preseason pick to make the Final Four and maybe even cut down the nets at the end of the tournament.

Then the season started.

The Illini seemed to be cursed this year.

It started with the announcement that All-American, Kofi Cockburn, would be suspended for the first few games of the season for selling T-shirts with his name on it during the offseason. Even though, 1) Kofi had declared himself eligible for the NBA draft at the time and 2) the NCAA would make this legal literally days after handing down the suspension with the implementation of NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals, which would allow NCAA athletes to profit off of their name.

Kofi broke the rules and most Illini fans were ok with the suspension, even if it was stupid, because we knew he'd be back for the majority of the season.

Then the injuries started piling up. First it was concussions keeping multiple guys out for lengthy periods. Then there were positive COVID cases keeping guys out. Then it was more concussions. Then two major players, Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison, suffered shoulder injuries. And then right before the tournament, when it seemed that everyone was at least available if not healthy, a case of pink eye made its way through the locker room, which had to have something to do with the Illini's abysmal shooting in the tournament.

Things just could never quite sync up for this talented Illini team and the season ended in a whimper when the buzzer rang Sunday afternoon and abruptly, everyone had to move on from this special season.

Coach Brad Underwood has been at Illinois for 5 seasons now. When he took over the program it was bad, "six-feet under" as you'll hear Underwood say in the clip below.

Illinois would lose 21 games in Underwood's first year as the Illinois coach. Two freshman on that team, Trent Frazier and Da'monte Williams, had the option to jump ship after their freshman season or stick it out with Underwood and try to turn a program around.

They would stick it out and in the process become Illini legends.

The next year a rookie by the name of Ayo Dosumno came to Champaign, the Morgan Park native chose his home state school over many other prestigious offers to hopefully turn the program around.

It wouldn't take long for Dosumno, Frazier, Williams, Underwood, and eventually Cockburn to put Illinois basketball on the map again. The first time they really achieved national attention since the 2005 Final Four team.

Since then, Illinois has reached back-to-back tournaments for the first time in a decade, had back-to-back All-Americans in Dosumno and Cockburn, and have a LOADED recruiting class coming to Champaign the next two years.

The program is in good shape.

But before Illini nation moves on to Melendez, Goode, and Sincere Harris, Underwood had to say goodbye to this special team, and more poignantly, to the two 5th year seniors that stuck with him through the low points of the program's history.

It's obvious Underwood loves his players and the feeling is reciprocal.

It's totally ok if you cried, it just means you have feelings.

Once again, Illinois fans will be rooting for someone else in the Sweet Sixteen. Illinois fans are used to rooting for someone else in championship games for basketball and football.

In fact, Illinois is the only Power 5 school to not reach the Sweet Sixteen in basketball and not have an 8-win football program since 2009.

I can't speak to the football team just yet. The jury is still out on new head coach Brett Bilema, but his first year was promising.

It's just a matter of time however, before Illinois basketball breaks through to the second weekend of the tournament.

At least that's what Illinois fans will keep telling themselves.

A lot of Illinois fans are Cub fans so they're used to saying "Just wait till next year."

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