When Kofi Cockburn swatted away Iowa star Luka Garza’s last-second shot, the Illini celebrated a 78-76 win on Senior Night. Illinois basketball was back. 21 wins. A No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. They were an NCAA Tournament lock.
I was elated. I looked at tickets for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Illinois was already in the quarterfinals. The Big Ten had been the most exciting conference of the year. Even if the Illini had lost in the quarterfinals, I would’ve totally enjoyed the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois was dancing. They were going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Ayo Dosunmu was the clutchest player in the country and I knew Illinois had a chance to make a big run.
It’s March. It’s my favorite month of the year. No, it’s not because of my birthday. It’s because of March Madness. It’s hoops heaven.
But I didn’t know that when I celebrated Illinois’ win over hated Iowa, that it would be the last time I watched Dosunmu, Cockburn and the Illini play in 2020.
That day was less than two weeks ago but it feels like nearly a lifetime.
Last Wednesday (March 11), Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. He was the first NBA player to test positive, and he wasn’t the last.
That’s when I knew I made the right decision to not buy tickets to the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota clobbered Northwestern and Indiana held off Nebraska during the opening round.
But another basketball game wasn’t played.
Thursday morning (March 12), the Big Ten Tournament was one of many conference tournaments that were canceled. Late that day, my beloved NCAA Tournament was canceled. Not postponed. Canceled.
State basketball tournaments across the country were canceled. Champions were not crowned. Teams who fought so hard through the grueling dog days of the season didn’t get to celebrate. Many players, coaches and fans are now left to wonder about what could have been.
I get it. The coronavirus outbreak has been stunning to monitor. It’s spread across the globe faster than most could’ve imagined. Social distancing is key to getting the outbreak under control. Safety is everything.
It’s also okay to admit that this stinks for sports-lovers throughout the world. A March with no basketball seems incomplete. The NBA is postponed and more and more players are being diagnosed with the coronavirus. The NHL is postponed. Major League Baseball announced that the earliest they could start playing games again is mid-May.
The Kentucky Derby has been run every single year since 1875. But even that historic race is up in the air at the moment.
This weekend was supposed to be the time where Illinois basketball proved itself on the biggest stage. A run to the Sweet 16 or beyond was entirely possible. I’m sad that we don’t get to witness it.
I’m sad that Mahomet-Seymour sports have ground to a standstill. Spring is usually a fun time, and optimism was in the air for all the Bulldog athletes.
If you would’ve told me that March Madness would be canceled, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you would’ve told me that all M-S sports would be on hold, I would’ve been shocked.
I don’t know what the future holds yet. We’re all in a wait-and-see mode. But I do know that 2020 will be a year I never forget. A March with no basketball just isn’t right. Maybe my Illini will be in the NCAA Tournament next year. If they are, I’ll be sure to savor that memory even more.